Basketball

Japan rallies in second half to beat Germany

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The arena DJ encouraged the jam-packed, 18,355 fans at Saitama Super Arena saying, “Louder! Louder!”

But it was perhaps unnecessary because they were already pretty loud, extremely loud.

The Japan men’s national team bounced back from its early struggles and managed to edge Germany 86-83 on Saturday afternoon.

With the spirited victory over the world’s No. 22 country, Japan, which is 48th in the FIBA rankings, snapped its two-game exhibition losing streak. Japan has never beaten a European nation in FIBA World Cup competition.

The squad faces Tunisia at the same arena on Sunday in another FIBA World Cup warm-up game. The Germany and Tunisia contests are part of a pre-Tokyo Olympics test event.

“I’m very satisfied with the game,” Japan head coach Julio Lamas said after the game. “Our players did their best. Playing against such a quality team like Germany, we had moments that gave us tough times, but our players played smartly and came up with the win because of their effort. I am thankful for them.”

Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura guided the Akatsuki Five on offense and defense. The 21-year-old scored 31 points and grabbed five rebounds. He also notched a pair of steals. The ex-Gonzaga University star made a key block on Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder in the final few minutes, which gave a boost to his team.

Memphis Grizzlies two-way signing Yuta Watanabe followed Hachimura with 20 points, a team-high six rebounds and two steals. Athletic player Yudai Baba chipped in with 10 points as well.

Japan came through when it mattered the most. With his team trailing 79-75, Watanabe scored on a putback with about three minutes left in the game.

Japan allowed the guests to build a 12-point lead in the first half, but bounced back and took the lead on a pair of Baba free throws, then point guard Ryusei Shinoyama sank a floater to extend the lead to 84-81 with a little under two minutes left in the game.

In the closing seconds, Watanabe stole the ball from center/forward Maximilian Kleber and made a pair of free throws to seal the win.

“Everybody played hard,” Hachimura said. “And we buckled down in the end, both offensively and defensively, and I’m glad we ended up winning.”

Germany, which is grouped with the Dominican Republic, Jordan and France in Group B at the World Cup, which begins on Aug. 31, controlled the tempo by capitalizing on its physicality and led by as many as 12 points in the first half.

Japan trailed 42-35 entering the third quarter. But the Akatsuki Five regrouped in the second half, trimming the deficit with some gutsy performances.

“This give us enormous confidence, and I think the expectation level for us will rise,” Watanabe said. “But we’re not going to be satisfied with this. We are going to have to buckle down because we will face tough opponents at the (World Cup).”

Germany, which did not play in the previous World Cup in 2014, will take on France on Sept. 1 in Shenzhen, China, in its opener at the 2019 tournament

Elsewhere, Australia beat the United States 98-94 in a tune-up game on Saturday, ending the Americans’ 78-game win streak.

Patty Mills paced Australia, which took an 0-30 all-time record against the United States into the contest, with 30 points in Melbourne, Australia. U.S. guard Kemba Walker had a team-high 22 points.

“The support has been amazing. We’re very proud to represent these fans and in the right way. We’re doing it as a team, as a group,” Mills told reporters, after the game. “This is a building block for us, we are just taking it step by step. It’s just nice to see our progress.”

That epic streak began in the 2006 FIBA World Championship bronze-medal game at Saitama Super Arena.

It was Team USA’s first loss since a stunning 101-95 defeat to Greece in the FIBA World Championship semifinals on Sept. 1, 2006.

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