Basketball

Japan eliminated from World Cup contention after loss to Czech Republic

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Japan men’s national team played a lot better than on Sunday, but it wasn’t good enough to post its first victory at the FIBA World Cup on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic defeated Japan 89-76 at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.

The Asian squad (0-2) is now the only team in the four-team Group E with two losses in its first two games. Following the United States’ overtime victory against Turkey late Tuesday, Japan is assured of a last-place finish in Group E and will face the bottom two teams from Group F in the consolation bracket in Dongguan.

Japan faces Gregg Popovich-led Team USA at 9:30 p.m. (JST) at the same arena on Thursday.

Ace forward Rui Hachimura racked up 21 points, pulled down six rebounds and dished out four assists in the losing effort. Fellow forward Yuta Watanabe followed the Washington Wizard with 15 points and five rebounds. Center Nick Fazekas and shooting guard Makoto Hiejima chipped in with 12 and 10 points, respectively. The 34-year-old Fazekas grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds as well.

For the Czechs, Chicago Bulls guard and leader Tomas Satoransky made a big impact with 15 points and seven assists to guide his nation, which is making its first appearance at the tournament, to the historic win. American-Czech Blake Schilb had the hot hand throughout the game, hitting 6 of 7 3-point attempts. Schilb and fellow forward Jaromir Bohacik, who made four 3s, each had a game-high 22 points.

“We played better from the beginning today, but our opponents got their rhythm in the third quarter and we just couldn’t stop that,” said the 21-year-old Hachimura, who was double-teamed by the Czechs almost every time he had the ball in his hands. “I knew they were coming against me like that and I’d practiced for it. But we couldn’t win at (the Czechs’) offensive rebounding, and we are not going to win unless we improve on that.”

The overall rebounding numbers were almost identical. The Czech Republic had 35 to Japan’s 34, but Japan was outrebounded 14-8 on the offensive boards.

Unlike in its first pool game against Turkey on Sunday, Japan entered the contest with a completely different aggressiveness.

The Czech Republic led 45-40 at halftime.

But in the latter half, the Europeans gradually pulled away from Japan, capitalizing on its miscues. Japan committed four turnovers in the first half, but had 10 in the second half. The Czech Republic notched eight steals, five of which came in the final quarter. Satoransky and forward Pavel Pumprla made three steals apiece.

“We competed against the Czech Republic today, but our defense wasn’t good enough to win,” Japan head coach Julio Lamas said after the game. “Eighty-nine points are a lot of points and it makes it difficult for you to win a World Cup game. Offensively, we were OK, but we need to improve our defense to give ourselves a better chance to win.”

Point guard Ryusei Shinoyama came off the bench and faced the daunting task of defending the 201-cm Satoransky when he was on the court. The 178-cm Shinoyama said that he “really wanted to win” the game to prove Japan’s development since it lost to the same opponent in the Olympic qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Japan lost 87-71 in Belgrade.

“We tried to keep up with them with a deficit of a single-digit points and to catch up with them from there,” the 31-year-old said with a look of disappointment.

“But we couldn’t cut the deficit to five points, three points. This is not about (the lack of) experience or anything like that. This is what we are right now and there’s still gaps (with the world’s elites).”

Czech Republic head coach Ronen Ginzburg said: “I think Japan forced us to play their style of game, they pushed us out and caused us to play with less patience. But like I said before, I respect Japan. They are a good team.”

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