Yokohama – Offensive rebounding and second-chance scoring propelled the Chiba Jets to an 85-65 win over the Utsunomiya Brex in the opening game of the 2021 B. League Finals on Saturday, bringing the Jets to within a win of an elusive first title.
Chiba dominated the offensive boards by a 16-10 count and racked up 24 second-chance points against Utsunomiya’s six in front of 4,678 fans at Yokohama Arena.
After holding a slight 36-35 lead at halftime, the Jets dictated the second half, outscoring their opponents 49-30.
The Jets, who have come up short twice before in the finals, will look to close out the series Sunday at Yokohama Arena, with the opening tipoff set for 3 p.m.
“We were able to keep working hard,” Jets head coach Atsuhi Ohno said after the game. “But we have to win one more game so we’ll maintain our focus for tomorrow.”
Forward Gavin Edwards led the Jets with 15 points and also came down with 12 rebounds.
The championship matchup, which had been a winner-take-all game in the past, is a best-of-three series for the first time this year.
If the Brex even up the series Sunday, a decisive third game will be played on Tuesday night at Yokohama Arena.
The Jets got off to a great start in quest for the championship, which slipped out of their hands in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 finals.
Chiba concluded its playoff semifinals against the Ryukyu Golden Kings in Okinawa on May 24, two days after the Brex concluded their series against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
That meant the Jets had a short week to prepare for Utsunomiya with little time to rest ahead of the finals.
Despite the disadvantages, the Jets hit the court showing more flair than their opponents on Saturday afternoon.
Togashi, the team’s captain and national team star, said that his team’s past outcomes on this stage inspired their performance.
“We have the history of coming up short two years in a row,” Togashi said. “So we’ve tried to make it our year and competed with the same mentality today.
“While we could outrebound Utsunomiya, we had some stretches when we couldn't make shots. But even during those times, guys like Gavin and Sebastian (Saiz) told us that they would grab rebounds so we shouldn’t hesitate from shooting, and we did that in the second half. We want to communicate with each other like that and get the championship by winning tomorrow.”
Utsunomiya had reached the finals with two consecutive series sweeps and had not been in the position of needing to mount a comeback — a mentality Brex bench boss Ryuzo Anzai suggested may have affected his players.
“We haven’t experienced situations like this,” Anzai said. “But now we have and I think we can play our brand of ball like the Brex even if we have to come from behind tomorrow.”
Brex leader Ryan Rossiter gave credit to Chiba for playing with more energy than his team.
“They played like a team that had lost two previous championships and they were hungry,” Rossiter said. “And they were definitely hungrier than we were today.”
Utsunomiya entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed and Rossiter insisted that his team needed to keep that in mind.
“I think we have to remember who we are,” he said. “We won the East (Conference). We were the best team from start to finish. And we didn’t play like that today.”
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