The two-time B. League champion Alvark Tokyo set the pace at both ends of the floor as they cruised past the Kawasaki Brave Thunders 85-79 in front of a home crowd at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi in the opening game of the 2020-21 B. League campaign on Friday night.
The two teams had the night to themselves, with the rest of the top division beginning play on Saturday.
American center Alex Kirk had a double-double to start the year, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds, while point guard Seiya Ando scored 18 and was 4-for-5 from 3-point range for the Alvark, who led B1 with a .780 winning percentage during the 2019-20 season, which ended prematurely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Alvark were especially potent defensively, limiting the Brave Thunders to just 22 points in the first half.
The club was forced to compete without two of its import players, Kevin Jones and newcomer Deshaun Thomas, due to travel restrictions enacted by the Japanese government. According to the club, Jones, who played for the team last season, arrived on Sept. 20 and is currently going through a two-week quarantine period. Thomas has not yet arrived in Japan.
The team played without a foreign player on the floor for a few stretches of Friday’s game.
The Alvark are coming out of an offseason in which they were forced to stop practice in August after three players, including reigning league MVP Daiki Tanaka, were infected with COVID-19.
Considering the circumstances, Alvark head coach Luka Pavicevic called Friday’s result “an excellent victory” and “just more than a game.”
Ando, who played for the Japan national team at last year’s FIBA World Cup in China, was excited after picking up the first win of the season against a quality opponent like the Brave Thunders, who finished tied for the second-best winning percentage (.775) last season.
“Since we’ve practiced without some of our players, our fans probably anticipated this would be a tough game for us,” Ando said. “But we’ve practiced with the guys we have and wanted to win the season opener. So it feels great to do that. I think we played to the best we can now.”
For Kawasaki, guard Yuma Fujii put on a show in the second half with 18 points. Naturalized center Nick Fazekas chipped in with 19 points and 11 boards, but the team seemed a little rusty overall.
This season marks the B. League’s fifth anniversary. While playing through the ongoing pandemic, the league is following the guidelines set by the government, which has asked operators of large-scale events to cap attendance at half-capacity.
Each club will play 60 games during the regular season. The playoffs will start on May 13 and the finals will kick off on May 29 at Yokohama Arena.