Basketball

Akatsuki Five shell-shocked in Shanghai as Turkey claims Group E opener

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan’s players seemed shell-shocked early on and it wound up costing them significantly in their first game at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Japan was unable to compete at its own rhythm on offense or defense and fell 86-67 against Turkey in Group E action at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center on Sunday evening.

The Akatsuki Five, who are playing in the sport’s global extravaganza for the first time since the 2006 edition in Japan, displayed some first-game jitters with three straight turnovers right after the tipoff. The Asian representatives had six turnovers in the opening quarter and added four more by the end of the first half, eventually compiling 14 overall.

Japan’s offense clicked for a few minutes in the second quarter, which concluded with a left-handed dunk from star forward Rui Hachimura off his own steal. But Japan could not slow down the Turkish attack, which scored both from inside and outside, and got away with the victory.

For Turkey, Milwaukee Bucks veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova scored 19 points to lead the team and shooting guard Melih Mahmutoglu had 17. Ilyasova and Mahmutoglu knocked down five and three 3-pointers, respectively.

The 32-year-old Ilyasova, who matched up against Hachimura during many of the minutes he was on the floor, grabbed a game-high nine rebounds as well. Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Cedi Osman and Philadelphia 76ers guard Furkan Korkmaz followed their fellow NBA player with 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Turkey was in control almost from the start, leading 28-12 after the first quarter and 47-35 at halftime.

Japan co-captain Yuta Watanabe said after the game that his team’s performance in the opening quarter was “definitely” the costliest, but summed up the loss as “a good learning experience.”

“It was tough. This is the first time for me and most of our guys to play at the World Cup,” said the two-way signing for the Memphis Grizzlies, who racked up nine points. “(The Turkish players) knew what they had to do. They figured out what they had to do quickly and that’s why they won by (19 points) against us. The first quarter was really difficult.”

Point guard Ryusei Shinoyama shared Watanabe’s sentiment, adding: “We were a little too passive at the beginning. We had our moments when we could keep up with them (and reduce the) deficit to 10 points or so. But the way we played early on allowed them to control the momentum of the game.”

Hours before Sunday’s encounter, Hachimura was revealed to have been sick for the previous few days. While it’s unclear how much that affected his performance, he did not look sharp. The 21-year-old managed to score 15 points, tying with Nick Fazekas for the team high, but nine of those points came from free throws.

The Washington Wizards forward also cleaned the boards seven times, which led the team. Fazekas contributed with his outside shooting, going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Japan struggled on the boards and was outrebounded 44-26, with Turkey grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.

“Turkey played better than us all game,” Japan head coach Julio Lamas said. “They played very physical and played comfortably. They played physically in rebounding, too.”

Fazekas admitted that Turkey played a game that was of “a different level.”

“I’ve been telling everyone that experience is the thing,” the 211-cm center said. “Turkey is playing in a lot of these things. They know how to win. (They) just came out of a different level to start the game and the game was won in the first quarter.”

While Japan had played competitively against some of the world’s elites like Argentina and Germany in pre-tournament warmup contests, Fazekas insisted: “I think you can kind of see the differences between a tuneup game and a World Cup game.”

Asked if Hachimura was closer to his top condition during the game, Fazekas said that his teammate was “OK.”

“I mean, he was going against Ilyasova, who’s a 10-year NBA vet. He’s got a lot of tricks in his sleeve and Rui’s brand new at the (NBA),” said the Colorado native, who took Japanese citizenship last year. “I think it’s just experience for Rui. I don’t know that he is to blame (for the loss) or the fever that he had or the stomach bug that he had. But today was a different level and I think everyone can see that.”

Japan will take on the Czech Republic in its next game on Tuesday in Shanghai.

In Other Games

United States 88, Czech Republic 67

Greece 85, Montenegro 60

Australia 108, Canada 92

France 78, Germany 74

Lithuania 101, Senegal 47

Dominican Republic 80, Jordan 76

Brazil 102, New Zealand 94

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