After attempting his first free throw, Ryan Kelly shouted toward his own bench: “This is my time.”
He had all the right in the world to say so.
Kelly, who competed in his first game back since breaking his left cheekbone in late January, hit two of his three shots from the charity stripe with 0.5 seconds left to propel the Sunrockers Shibuya to an 84-82 win over the Alvark Tokyo in front of a home crowd at Aoyama Gakuin University on Sunday night.
“I said ‘This is my time.’ This is the time where I’m confident with the ball in my hands to make a play to win and I know my teammates are confident in me to make the right play,” Kelly said after the victory, which snapped Shibuya’s five-game losing streak.
Kelly had been out since Jan. 24 when he accidentally took an elbow to the face from a Shiga Lakestars player. He returned home to the United States to receive surgery, enduring quarantines there and in Japan upon his return.
Kelly confessed that he was “a little upset” that there were “no consequences” handed down from the league in response to the incident, which he called “not a basketball play.” He still has two metal plates in his face and played with a face guard on for protection.
“Maybe (they’ll stay for) rest of my life,” Kelly said when asked when he would be able to remove the plates.
The time away from the court did not diminish his crafty veteran skills.
With 7.7 seconds remaining in the final quarter, Kelly hit a tough fadeaway to give Shibuya a 82-80 lead. Tokyo tied the game at 82-all moments later to force a Sunrockers timeout, but Kelly cunningly used a stepback fake to draw a foul from Alvark forward Desahun Thomas near the top of the key to draw his crucial trio of free throws.
“I think my defender was expecting to drive and he was a little bit back on his heels,” said the 29-year-old, who played with Kobe Bryant in the late superstar’s final season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015-16. “And I saw that and did a little sidestep. So he had kind of backed up and I knew he was going to be trying to recover when I was getting ready to shoot. So you obviously wanted to contest the shot, and I think I just read the play.”
Kelly added: “I’ve been in those situations before. I’ve hit big shots before. I’ve missed big shots before. I’ve just been in the situation.”
Just as Kelly said, his team had faith in the American and head coach Tsutomu Isa drew up a play to give the ball to him near the top of the key, leaving it to Kelly to do the rest.
“We couldn’t lose the game and I just told our guys where to give him the ball,” said Isa, who uncharacteristically embraced Kelly right after the final buzzer. “He’s been in those situations so many times and knew what to do. So I didn’t have to give him detailed instructions.”
The forward scored 14 points — all in the second half — with nine of them coming in the fourth quarter.
The long wait for a win was finally over for the Eastern Conference club. The Sunrockers had posted a 21-8 record through Jan. 24 with Kelly, but went 3-8 during his absence as well as that of another American, James Michael McAdoo, who missed three games with an ankle injury in February.
The Sunrockers, who fell to the Alvark 83-76 on Monday night, are currently in sixth place in the conference with a 25-17 record — a tough spot in terms of postseason contention.
Kelly said he “didn’t expect” his team’s drought, but insisted that with a full squad the side would be competitive again going forward.
“We feel like when our group is together, we’re pretty good,” the Duke University alum said. “And when somebody is out, you know, mentally, somebody else has to step up, and we’ll do that every time we step up on the floor.”
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