Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Chiba set for semifinal clash with Tochigi; Ryukyu faces Tokyo

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Motivation can be a powerful emotion in sports.

For the Chiba Jets Funabashi, last season’s defeat in the B. League Championship final to the Alvark Tokyo has been their motivational force throughout this season.

Jets shooting guard Kosuke Ishii admitted as much after Chiba’s 96-85, series-clinching victory over the visiting Toyama Grouses at Funabashi Arena on Sunday, a win that propelled the Jets into the playoff semifinals.

“Yes, it’s our guiding motivation,” he confirmed, speaking to reporters.

This weekend, Chiba, which recorded a league-best 52-8 regular-season record, takes on the Tochigi Brex. A trip to the May 11 final is on the line. The best-of-three series begins on Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, is set for Monday.

The league’s top two regular-season teams meet with a championship game berth on the line. Talk about the highest motivation possible.

Coach Atsushi Ono’s Jets are riding a 10-game winning streak into this weekend’s marquee clash with the Brex, who have triumphed in seven straight games. Tochigi (49-11 before the postseason) eliminated the Kawasaki Brave Thunders from the title chase last weekend.

The Ryukyu Golden Kings, meanwhile, bounced back from a Game 1 loss to the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins and advanced by winning the next two games, including Monday’s 67-43 series finale. The Golden Kings will meet the reigning champion and East third-place squad Alvark, who knocked off the Central Division champion Niigata Albirex BB in the quarterfinals, in the other semifinal series.

In Okinawa City, Game 1 of the Golden Kings-Alvark series is scheduled for Saturday, followed by Game 2 the next day. A Game 3 would be contested next Tuesday night at Ryukyu’s home gym.

Semifinal series breakdowns

One veteran B. League head coach, who requested anonymity, analyzed the two upcoming semifinal series in an interview with this newspaper on Thursday.

Three keys to Chiba vs. Tochigi:

1. “The impact of Michael Parker will be big. He is often the forgotten player on Chiba and when teams underestimate him he has a big impact on the game,” the coach declared. “He will play a very important part. His impact is often lessened when you don’t have to over-help. Tochigi has a very good defense so this could help this situation.”

2. “How Tochigi uses (Makoto) Hiejima will be interesting. He has the ability to create off the dribble, which can free up some of the Tochigi shooters,” he said. “It also helps Tochigi be a better offensive rebounding team. Tochigi is very hard to beat when they win the possession game.”

3. “The defensive transition of Tochigi. Chiba is really good in transition and this will be a key,” the coach noted.

Three keys to Ryukyu vs. Tokyo:

1. “Okinawa has to limit their offensive errors or bad shots. Tokyo is the best in the league at converting easy scores,” the coach commented.

2. “Both teams play a lot of pick-and-roll offense. So the team that can do the best job of defending this will go a long way to winning,” he stated. “Especially if Tokyo does a good job because they will then run from the missed shots.”

3. “Okinawa has been doing a much better job on the offensive boards,” the coach noted. “If they can do this and keep the scoreboard ticking over, then this will be a key. I expect this series to be a grind. Could go either way.”

Final thoughts?

“Overall my pick is a Chiba-Tokyo championship game,” the coach concluded. “Chiba is my pick to win it this year.”

Playoff tidbits

“Chiba won 52 games in the brutal East Division,” one league observer tweeted recently.

This reporter conducted a poll on Twitter before the playoffs began asking people to predict which team will win the title. Voting lasted for one week. There were 225 votes, with the Brex receiving 35 percent of the votes. The Jets got 32 percent, followed by the Alvark at 17 percent and the Albirex/other team at 16 percent.

The Golden Kings, of course, have a unique place in recent Japan pro sports history, winning four titles in nine seasons in the bj-league. In year two of their existence (2008-09), they transformed into a model franchise in the then-fledgling league, winning it all.

Like the Brex in Tochigi Prefecture, they are the team in Okinawa’s sports pecking order.

Reviewing previous meetings

The Jets-Brex rivalry resembles a duel of heavyweight championship fighters. Each seeks to land the final knockout punch.

Recent history indicates that the semifinal series will be a collection of intense, high-energy showdowns.

Chiba faced Tochigi bench boss Ryuzo Anzai’s squad six times in the regular season, including two midweek contests as part of this season’s compressed schedule.

There was the first contest between the rivals on Nov. 7, a 73-61 Tochigi home win. Seiji Ikaruga paced the Brex with 20 points. The Jan. 16 meeting at Chiba Port Arena evened the season series at 1-1, with the Jets winning 80-71 and Yuki Togashi leading the way with four 3-pointers, 23 points and six assists.

Their first back-to-back encounters of the campaign took place on Feb. 2-3 at Brex Arena Utsunomiya. Chiba took the opener, 68-65, getting a combined 27 rebounds from Gavin Edwards and Michael Parker. A day later, Tochigi avenged its defeat, thrashing Chiba 82-64, getting a game-best 25 points from Yusuke Endo, who canned 5 of 7 3-pointers, and for the fourth straight meeting the winning club held the edge in overall rebounds (39-36 in this one; Ryan Rossiter and Jeff Gibbs corralled 11 and 10, respectively).

The teams closed out March with their final regular-season series. On March 30, the Jets triumphed 95-85 in Funabashi. The Jets’ balanced scoring — five guys with 10 or more points (led by Parker’s 25 on 11-for-14 shooting) — paved the way to victory. Ono’s charges shot 55.9 percent from the field. Four Brex scorers finished in double figures, with Gibbs and Rossiter each getting 20. The rebounding battle ended in a draw (35-35). On March 31, Tochigi led 38-28 at halftime, then held off Chiba’s comeback effort in the fourth quarter. This game, too, ended with a rebounding tie (39-39).

Tokyo met Ryukyu on Nov. 2 and 3 at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi in the teams’ first series this season. The Golden Kings won 67-53 and 75-69. In the opener, Ryukyu outrebounded the Alvark 45-31 while holding them to 31.1 percent shooting. In the first game, the Kings finished with three players getting 10 or more points, while the Alvark had one, Yudai Baba with 15.

The rematch was tight throughout the 40 minutes, with the Kings holding the largest lead of the game (10). Ryukyu had four double-digit scorers in the series finale; Tokyo had two.

On Nov. 17 and 18 in Okinawa City, the Alvark won the series opener 57-54. The Kings shot 32.2 percent from the field; the Alvark converted 36.8 percent. Tokyo held Ryukyu to eight third-quarter points, while Alvark center Alex Kirk scored a game-high 18 points.

In the series finale, Ryukyu outscored Tokyo 18-9 in the fourth quarter. The hosts held an 18-7 edge in second-chance points and an 11-0 advantage on points off turnovers.

On Nov. 17 and 18 in Okinawa City, the Alvark won the series opener 57-54. The Kings shot 32.2 percent from the field; the Alvark converted 36.8 percent. Tokyo held Ryukyu to eight third-quarter points, while Alvark center Alex Kirk scored a game-high 18 points.

In the series finale, Ryukyu outscored Tokyo 18-9 in the fourth quarter. The hosts held an 18-7 edge in second-chance points and an 11-0 advantage on points off turnovers.

A look ahead

The B2 third-place series features the Kumamoto Volters vs. the Shimane Susanoo Magic with games on Saturday, Sunday and, if necessary, next Monday.

The second-division championship final pits the Nagano Prefecture-based Shinshu Brave Warriors against the visiting Gunma Crane Thunders on the same dates.

Fukuoka update

The Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka, who were demoted from B1, have been issued a B2 license after the league initially rejected their application based on financial problems. The decision was announced on Tuesday.

The license approval for the 2019-20 campaign includes the league providing a loan to Fukuoka, which also secured new sponsorships from local businesses as well as part of the deal.

Feedback

Contact the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp