Yokohama – After falling short in both of their previous final appearances and desiring the championship perhaps more than any other team, the third time was the charm for the Chiba Jets Funabashi.
Chiba finally captured its first-ever league title with a 71-62 win over the Utsunomiya Brex in the decisive third game of the B. League Finals at Yokohama Arena on Tuesday night.
“We lost in the final three years ago and two years ago, and we’ve played all year to enjoy this moment,” Jets star point guard Yuki Togashi said after the game, which was taken in by a crowd of 4,785. “So I’m so proud of this team.”
Chiba has been one of the elite teams since the B. League’s inaugural 2016-17 season and racked up three straight Emperor’s Cups at the annual All-Japan Championship from 2017.
But the league title remained elusive, as the Jets fell to the Alvark Tokyo in two consecutive finals from the 2017-18 season.
“We’ve been so close,” Jets forward Gavin Edwards said. “This is the third year in a row we’ve been to the finals. It feels like it’s just slipped through our fingers every year and I’m just, not only happy for us as the players, but the fans. They fought for us the last three years since I’ve been here. Our organization fought so hard and it feels so good to finally get it.”
The league canceled last year’s postseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two teams engaged in close toe-to-toe battles for much of the night. But the Jets defense came though toward the end with their offense clicking when it mattered the most.
Chiba laid its hands on the trophy when forward Sebastian Saiz made a put-back layup with 38 seconds left in the final quarter to force the Brex into a foul game.
American guard Shannon Shorter hit all the six free throws in the remaining seconds to seal the deal for the Jets.
Chiba limited Utsunomiya to just 12 points in the fourth quarter, while it scored 21 points, following a first half that ended 35-all and a third quarter that finished with both teams tied at 50.
Utsunomiya forward/center Ryan Rossiter lamented that his team’s failure to make big plays down the stretch prevented them from taking home their second B. League championship.
“Towards the last few minutes, they were more decisive on offense. They knew exactly what they wanted to do,” Rossiter said. “And we kind of second-guessed ourselves a little bit like we did in the first game (an 85-65 loss). We didn’t attack, or (we) made it a little too complicated for ourselves.”
Brex head coach Ryuzo Anzai took the blame for the loss, saying that he did not instruct his players to make proper adjustments. But Rossiter disagreed.
“I think it’s on the players,” said Rossiter, who has been with the Brex since 2013. “The coaches did a really good job with a game plan and telling us what we needed to do. But towards the end, it’s on the players who have to make the plays. And we just didn’t make plays.”
Saiz, who moved from the Sunrockers Shibuya to the Jets this season, averaged 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds during the series and was named the series’ Most Valuable Player.
“I came to this team and helped them win something they’d never won before,” the Spaniard said. “That was the milestone that they had played for since the league was created. And that was something that they’d never achieved. I’m proud of myself that I got here and I was part of some of the jobs to be able to win this championship.”
It obviously meant a lot to Togashi, who is the face of the Jets and has been one of the driving forces putting the team in the mix for the title. For years he’s been on the other side of the post-game ceremony, watching other teams receive their trophies.
Before the two defeats to the Alvark, Togashi — then a member of the Akita Northern Happinets — lost in the championship game to the Ryukyu Golden Kings at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum in the 2013-14 final of the bj-league, one of the B. League’s predecessors.
“This was my fourth time and it feels like I’ve finally got one,” said the 2018-19 B. League MVP, who will soon join Japan’s training camp as a candidate for its Olympic men’s basketball squad. “And compared with the previous three occasions, I didn’t necessarily play better statistically, but at the same time I wanted to help my team in any way and I’m relieved to have been able to do that.”
Meanwhile, Utsunomiya came up short in its quest to follow up its 2016-17 title. But the Brex have no regrets over their own successful season, in which they posted the B1’s best winning percentage at 81.7%.
Guard Yusuke Endo said he cherished the privilege of competing on the league’s biggest stage, despite the end result.
“No matter who watched it, it was a great game and we enjoyed being part of it,” said the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, who netted a team-high 13 points. “We came up short and that’s the reality. But we’ve played through this season, having a lot of fun and communicating with each other. I regret that we didn’t win the championship but we’ve done what we’ve wanted to do.”
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