SAITAMA – The Kawasaki Brave Thunders bounced back from early scoring struggles and edged the Alvark Tokyo 69-66 on Thursday to advance to the All-Japan Basketball Championship semifinals.
With Kawasaki up 67-64, guard Yuma Fujii nailed a layup to seal the deal for the Brave Thunders, who won the event also known as the Emperor’s Cup in 2014, when they were called the Toshiba Brave Thunders.
Kawasaki, which was held to 17 points in the opening quarter, trailed by 10 points entering the second period.
But then the Brave Thunders defense came through, limiting Tokyo to eight and nine points in the second and third quarters, respectively, en route to victory.
Big man Jordan Heath had a team-high 20 points and fellow inside player Nick Fazekas chipped in with 19 points and 16 rebounds for Kawasaki, which leads the B. League with a 24-4 record.
Fujii gave the team an emotional performance, providing 17 points and three assists.
“We tried to do what we were supposed to do,” Fujii said, reflecting on the contest at Saitama Super Arena. “We were down by 10 points early, but we kept our concentration playing tough defense, and it resulted in the second and third quarters, in which we held them to single-digit points.”
For the Alvark, the two-time defending B. League champions who have a 21-7 record this season, center Alex Kirk racked up 20 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow American Kevin Jones had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The Brave Thunders overcome the absence of two of their core players in point guard and captain Ryusei Shinoyama and Uruguayan Mathias Calfani. Shinoyama recently suffered a dislocated left elbow, while Calfani injured his right leg.
“We’ve been focusing on this game since the end of last month,” said Fujii, who usually serves as Shinoyama’s backup but started on Thursday. “There have been injuries to ourselves, but we would like to win two more to win the championship.”
In other quarterfinal games, the Shiga Lakestars defeated the SeaHorses Mikawa 73-65, the Sunrockers Shibuya cruised past the Levanga Hokkaido 76-60 and the Utsunomiya Brex topped the Toyama Grouses 74-65.
The men’s competition at the annual winter tourney will resume on Saturday, when the Brave Thunders take on Brex and the Sunrockers square off against Shiga at the same venue.
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