The Chiba Jets Funabashi and Utsunomiya Brex have been in the same conference since the B. League’s inaugural season in 2016-17, and their constant clashes have led to a rivalry between the two teams.
The East Conference clubs met last weekend for the first time this season, splitting a two-game series at Funabashi Arena.
The Jets were the superior team at both ends of the floor in the first game on Saturday, in particular during the second half, in a 87-78 win. The Brex returned the favor the next day, showing more energy and determination in an 85-68 win.
Following the second game, Utsunomiya head coach Ryuzo Anzai stressed the importance of getting the win and making a statement.
“We wanted to give as much energy and the level of execution we showed today in yesterday’s game, but we couldn’t,” said Anzai, whose team is off to a 5-1 start to the season. “The coaching staff felt the importance of today’s game and our players felt the same.
It was important, because the clubs won’t be seeing as much of each other this year.
The B. League has shifted from three six-team conferences to two conferences of 10 teams this year. Because of the move, each team will face the other clubs in its conference four times instead of six times, as was the case in the 2019-20 campaign. That means the season series between the Brex and Jets is already halfway over.
“You play only four games against the same opponent in the East Conference,” Anzai said. “And if you take two losses in a row in the same series, it puts your back against the wall. I can’t speak for Chiba, but we didn’t want them to think they could beat us easily. That’s why we held onto our pride and maintained our concentration, and managed to win today’s game.”
In the other locker room on Sunday, Chiba bench boss Atsushi Ono was feeling the opposite emotion — frustrated the players couldn’t meet his expectations and match their performance from the first game.
“You have to realize how important it is to play with the right mindset to battle against a tough team like (Utsunomiya),” said Ono, whose Jets are at 5-2. “The way we played early in the third quarter was simply disappointing. We were losing and it was us who needed to be more aggressive. The data speaks for itself; we drew only 17 fouls and they got 29 of those. It’s impossible that a losing team gets fewer fouls.
“Sometimes the momentum comes to you naturally, but usually, you’re not going to get it unless you’re proactive, especially when you play a great team like that.”
During the third quarter Ono was referring to, the Brex went on a 23-14 run that led to Utsunomiya taking a 65-45 lead. It was a key moment in the Brex’s victory.
In many ways, the two teams are similar.
Unlike some of the other powerhouse clubs that came from the Japan Basketball League, which was an industrial circuit, both clubs were founded as professional teams and have grown into two of the B. League’s most popular franchises, each with an enthusiastic fanbase.
Both clubs have also collected trophies.
While Utsunomiya was the B. League’s inaugural champion, the Jets captured three straight Emperor’s Cups at the annual All-Japan Championship from the 2017 edition.
The Brex were 3-0 against the Jets during the shortened 2019-20 campaign and have held a 14-9 edge in the series over the last four years.
Both clubs have deep benches and can put a variety of lineups on the floor. When players are doing poorly, both coaches have others who can fill the void.
For example, Chiba guard Koh Flippin didn’t play well in a two-game series against the Sunrockers Shibuya on the weekend of Oct. 10, playing just five and nine minutes in each game. On Saturday against Utsunomiya, however, he scored eight points and recorded three steals in 17 minutes on the floor.
After Saturday’s win, Ono said it’s not easy to make the right decisions quickly during games.
“We didn’t play Shige (Shigehiro Taguchi) today and we had to think about what we should do to be the most effective. We had to consider the matchups and personnel and all that.”
Humbly — or perhaps jokingly — he added, “I’m no good at personnel changes. I would like to keep learning.”
During their matchup over the weekend, each coach stayed on top of who came off the opposing bench and responded with their own moves.
Many teams rely heavily on a rotation of core players and don’t use everyone in each game. Over the weekend, however, the Brex used all 12 of their players in both games while the Jets played 10 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday.
When American center/forward Josh Scott joined Utsunomiya this year, the 27-year-old — who had previously played for the Shimane Susanoo Magic and Ryukyu Golden Kings — wasn’t aware of the rivalry between the teams.
As a competitor, however, he definitely likes to be part of it.
“It’s fun,” Scott said. “As a basketball player, you live for it. You play in the driveway, thinking about three, two, one and the buzzer-beater. Playing in situations like that. Every player, I’ll tell you, they like to play against good competition, against good teams, rivalry situations. … So it’s a good time, it’s fun.”
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