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B.League Finals: Dragonflies Capitalize on Golden Kings' Mistakes in Game 2

Playing gritty defense, Hiroshima forced 14 turnovers and held a 24-6 edge in points from turnovers in a bounce-back win over Ryukyu in the B.League Finals.

YOKOHAMA ― Facing elimination with another loss, the Hiroshima Dragonflies delivered a gutsy, determined performance against the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings in Game 2 of the B.League Finals on Sunday, May 26 to keep their championship hopes alive. 

The final score: Hiroshima 72, Ryukyu 63.

It was a game in which a sizable majority of the fans (a boisterous crowd of 13,203) rooted for the Golden Kings to wrap up their second title in as many years.

Instead, the Dragonflies avenged their series-opening 74-62 loss at Yokohama Arena on Saturday, relying on a balanced scoring attack and an opportunistic defense that capitalized on the Golden Kings' miscues.

Game 3 of the B.League Finals is on Tuesday, May 28 at the same venue. Tipoff is 7:05 PM.


Hiroshima (36-24) snuck into the playoffs with a wild-card berth, and third-year head coach Kyle Milling's team has proven that it belongs in the postseason. It embraces an underdog mentality.

The Dragonflies swept the Central Conference champion San-en NeoPhoenix (46-14) in a two-game quarterfinal series before eliminating the Western Conference champion Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (41-19, same regular-season record as Ryukyu) in the playoff semifinals.

B.League Finals
Hiroshima head coach Kyle Milling congratulates one of his players after the team's Game 2 win. (KYODO)

"I thought it was a tough game," Milling told reporters after Game 2, "[and] I think we were able to generate the same momentum we had in the second half of yesterday's game in the first half today.

"We got into a good rhythm right from the start and were able to stay in it for the entire 40 minutes with confidence."

Milling described it as "a great win" that boosts the team's confidence.

Most notably, Hiroshima's points from turnovers (24-6 edge) provided a defining trait for this game.

B.League Finals
Hiroshima's Dwayne Evans runs the offense. (KYODO)

Lineup Switch Pays Off for the Dragonflies

In Game 2, veteran 208-cm big man Tshilidzi Kawata, a naturalized Japanese player, was inserted into Hiroshima's starting lineup. He came off the bench in Game 1. Milling opted to go with a bigger lineup in Game 2, with Kawata, 208-cm Kerry Blackshear Jr and 201-cm Dwayne Evans in the frontcourt. Shooting guard Isaiah Murphy, who started Game 1, played as a backup in this game.

The Dragonflies had better overall rhythm on offense and their defense was more cohesive than in Game 1.

Hiroshima took a 21-10 lead on a Murphy 3-pointer with 2:36 to play in the first quarter.

The Dragonflies, who trailed 24-16 at the end of the first quarter in Game 1, reversed the script in Game 2, taking a 21-14 advantage into the second period. Evans paced the scoring attack with six points in the opening period.

B.League Finals
Vic Law had a team-high 16 points for the Golden Kings. (B.LEAGUE)

To their credit, the Golden Kings made a spirited comeback, dominating the second quarter. Ryukyu held Hiroshima to nine points in that span and scored 20. That put the Golden Kings ahead 34-30 at halftime.

Ryukyu's Vic Law was the lone double-digit scorer (10 points) for either team in the first half.

B.League Finals
Hiroshima's Ryo Yamazaki shoots a 3-pointer in the third quarter. Yamazaki made 4 of 5 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points in Game 2. (B.LEAGUE)

Third-Quarter Highlights: Big Run Propels the Dragonflies

Early in the third quarter, the Golden Kings extended their lead to 11 on back-to-back baskets by Allen Durham on a tip-in and a layup. Milling promptly called a timeout after the latter basket put his team in a 43-32 hole at the 7:39 mark.

Hiroshima regrouped and transformed the nature of the game.

It began with a 14-0 run ignited by an Evans 3-pointer and concluded with a Takuto Nakamura 3-pointer to give the Dragonflies a 46-43 lead.

"Looking back on yesterday, there were times when the offense was stagnant for the whole team," Evans said after the game. "But today the passing was good and I got the impression that the team offense worked well."

B.League Finals
Ryukyu's Hugh Watanabe and Hiroshima's Dwayne Evans compete in the second quarter. (B.LEAGUE)

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Defensive Preparation Helps Lead Hiroshima to a Game 2 Win

Heading into the fourth quarter, Hiroshima held the slimmest of margins (48-47) on the scoreboard.

And at the same time, Ryukyu's offense cooled off from a solid start in the first quarter. The Golden Kings missed 10 of 15 shots in the third quarter after making just 6 of 16 in the second quarter.

Hiroshima's defensive adjustments, particularly in rotating to guard 3-point shooters, was more effective in Game 2 than in the opener.

Golden Kings guards Keita Imamura and Ryuichi Kishimoto made a combined 9 of 17 3s in Game 1. They were a combined 2-for-14 from long range a day later.

"After yesterday's loss, we had a common understanding within the team and prepared well defensively," Nakamura said after the game, summing up Hiroshima's improved defense. "This led to a good flow of results, so we must continue to work on that in the next game as well."

A powerful Kawata dunk gave Hiroshima a 67-57 lead with 1:23 remaining.

B.League Finals
Dragonflies center Tshilidzi Kawata dunks in the fourth quarter. (B.LEAGUE)

And despite its long-range shooting struggles, Ryukyu pulled within 67-60 on a Kishimoto 3 with 1:15 to play, raising the hopes of fans chanting "Go, go Kings."

Second later, Dragonflies forward Nick Mayo buried a jumper and then Law brought Ryukyu within 69-63 on a 3 with 46 seconds to play. But Nakamura countered with another 3, raising the lead to 72-63 with 31 seconds to play. Neither team scored again.

B.League Finals
Dragonflies players salute the crowd after Game 2. (B.LEAGUE)

Scoring Leaders

Evans led the Dragonflies with 16 points. Ryo Yamazaki had 14, including 4 of 5 3s. Nakamura contributed 13 points, Blackshear poured in 10 points and Murphy had six.

For Ryukyu, Law scored 16 points, Durham had 11 and seven assists. Kishimoto finished with seven points. Jack Cooley and Alex Kirk had six points apiece.

Ryukyu Reacts to Its Game 2 Loss

Looking back on Sunday's match, Golden Kings coach Dai Oketani said his team lacked overall consistency in the game.

"We managed to finish the first half with a lead, but in the fourth quarter, we continued to make mistakes and handed the ball over to Hiroshima," Oketani told reporters.

Ryukyu is determined to bounce back in Game 3.

"If we can play Kings basketball for 40 minutes and play to our strengths, I think we will have a chance to win the game," Oketani said. "So we will switch over and prepare for Game 3."

Asked for his impression of the game, Kishimoto addressed his team's shortcomings in the final 10 minutes.

"We made a series of mistakes in the fourth quarter and our offense stagnated," said Kishimoto. "And I believe we can improve as a team heading into Game 3, so we will prepare positively to be in better shape."

Law offered a succinct assessment of his team's performance.

"Our defense was lackluster, and we handed the game over to Hiroshima," Law lamented.

The words of Ryukyu's Law conveyed a sense of collective disappointment after his team's Game 2 defeat.

But, as Law pointed out in the postgame news conference, the Golden Kings have faced pressure throughout the playoffs and won a pair of Game 3s to advance to the Finals.

The Golden Kings defeated the Alvark Tokyo 58-57 in the quarterfinals on May 13 at Ariake Coliseum, and they booked a spot in the championship round with an 83-67 series-clinching victory over the Chiba Jets on May 21.

Game 2 Notes

For the second straight B.League Finals game, the team with stronger 3-point shooting triumphed. Ryukyu made 15 of 33 in the series opener, then knocked down 10 of 34 in Game 2. Hiroshima sank 8 of 21 in Game 1, followed by a sizzling 11-for-18 effort from long range a day later.

Did you know? The Dragonflies have not lost back-to-back games since March 2-3 against the Chiba Jets. 

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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