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B.League Finals: Dragonflies Play Dynamic Defense in Game 3 to Win the Title

Hiroshima coach Kyle Milling's squad held the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings to 32.1% shooting in the decisive match in the B.League Finals.

YOKOHAMA ― Two dueling, compelling storylines enticed basketball fans during Game 3 of the B.League Finals.

Would the Ryukyu Golden Kings become the second team in B.League history to win back-to-back titles? (The Alvark Tokyo accomplished that feat in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.)

Or would the Hiroshima Dragonflies defy the odds and silence the naysayers by winning their first B.League championship? (The Dragonflies reached the playoffs as a wild-card entrant with a 36-24 record, 15 fewer victories than the league-leading Utsunomiya Brex.)

As the waning seconds of the fourth quarter ticked away on Tuesday night, May 28, the Dragonflies and their delighted fans savored their successful execution of a big, bold statement, especially on defense, in a 65-50 rout of the Golden Kings. 

Hiroshima held Ryukyu to 21 second-half points at Yokohama Arena. What's more, the Golden Kings made just 8 of 27 shots from the field in the third and fourth quarters.

Trailing 35-29 at halftime, Ryukyu needed a more consistent offensive performance to pull off the win.

Instead, the Dragonflies, who outscored the Golden Kings in the first, third and fourth quarters and matched their scoring output in a defensive struggle in the second quarter (11 points apiece), offered a vivid reminder of the cohesive makeup.

For the Dragonflies, Satisfaction and Excitement

Moments after the final buzzer sounded shortly after 9 PM, Hiroshima head coach Kyle Milling, in his third season at the helm, stood on the court next to his players and spoke about the Dragonflies becoming the 2023-24 B.League champions.

"Our strength all year long has been our defense," said Milling, who took over as Hiroshima coach after the team went 9-46 in 2020-21. By the end of that next season, the seeds had been planted for the Dragonflies' new identity. Hiroshima went 29-28 in Milling's first season in charge.

"I want to say thank you to the players for believing in what we do," Milling added, citing the players' embrace of the coaching staff's plans. "Defense wins games and defense wins championships."

B.League Finals
Dragonflies center Tshilidzi Kawata defends Golden Kings swingman Keita Imamura in the first quarter. (KYODO)

The Dragonflies grabbed the title by holding the Golden Kings to 4-for-24 shooting on 3-point attempts on Tuesday.

After a 74-62 loss in Game 1 on Saturday, May 26, the Dragonflies bounced back with a 72-63 victory in Game 2 the next day to force a deciding game.

B.League Finals
Hiroshima's Kerry Blackshear Jr in action in the third quarter. (B.LEAGUE)

Solid Contributions from Several Hiroshima Players

Veteran forward Dwayne Evans, who suited up for Ryukyu from 2020-22 before joining Hiroshima, led the title-winning club with 13 points in the series finale. Up-and-coming point guard Takuto Nakamura, who is 23, added 12 points. Kerry Blackshear Jr scored nine points, Ryo Yamazaki had eight and Nick Mayo seven.

In a game without jaw-dropping stats, Hiroshima's across-the-board contributions from several key players underscored Milling's remarks about his team.

"Our biggest strength is our team spirit [along with] our team chemistry," Milling said.

Nakamura commended his teammates for sticking together, saying they "carry confidence in each other."

With enthusiastic clapping from Hiroshima supporters, Nakamura added, "Thank you, [fans], for lots of support here."

Nakamura was selected as Finals MVP. He averaged 10.0 points per game in the Finals, including 13 in Game 2.

B.League Finals
B.League Playoff MVP Ryo Yamazaki (B.LEAGUE)

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Yamazaki Named Playoff MVP

Yamazaki's 3-point shooting was one of the hallmarks of the Dragonflies' success in the Finals. Although he was not the team's leading scorer in any of the games, Yamazaki's key contributions did not go unnoticed. He was named the playoff MVP (for al three rounds) after making 9 of 16 3s in the best-of-three championship series, including 4-for-5 in a Game 2 win that kept alive Hiroshima's title hopes.

He averaged 10.6 points in the series, including 10 points in Game 3 and 3-for-6 on 3s in the finale.

Reacting to being selected as B.League Championship (Playoff) MVP, the 31-year-old Yamazaki said, "I can only say one word: 'Great.' I am a shooter and I catch and shoot most of the time, so I can only thank my teammates who pass and screen [for] me.

"It's been a long season, and there were many games where I disappointed the fans at the beginning. But in the end, I was able to see the best scenery with the fans, and I'm really glad that I kept playing."

Yamazaki averaged 7.9 points in 51 regular-season games. He increased his scoring output to 13.9 points in eight playoff contests.

Since the B.League's inception in 2016, Yamazaki played for the Toyama Grouses, the Tochigi/Utsunomiya Brex and the Gunma Crane Thunders before joining Hiroshima before the 2023-24 campaign.

B.League Finals
The Golden Kings' Allen Durham is double-teamed in the second quarter. (B.LEAGUE)

Ryukyu Falls Short of Ultimate Goal in 2023-24

The Golden Kings (41-21 in the regular season) made three consecutive appearances in the B.League Finals. They came up short in the 2021-22 title series versus the Utsunomiya Brex before sweeping the Chiba Jets in 2022-23.

Head coach Dai Oketani guided the Golden Kings to all three championship appearances.

"I want to take pride in the fact that we have suffered so much to reach the Finals," Oketani told reporters. "We have had the longest season to reach the Finals, with the season opener [against the host Saga Ballooners on October 5] coming earlier than any other team. I would like to express my gratitude to all the players, staff and fans who have fought with us this far."

The Golden Kings never led in this game.

B.League Finals
Ryukyu's Ryuichi Kishimoto runs the offense in the third quarter. (KYODO)

Starting point guard Ryuichi Kishimoto, who finished with eight points, had mixed feelings about Ryukyu's season-ending defeat.

"We were unable to meet the expectations of our fans at the end of the season, and I have not been able to sort out my feelings," Kishimoto said in his team's postgame news conference.

Kishimoto then said, "Although it wasn't the result we had hoped for, I will continue to face basketball with pride."

Vic Law was Ryukyu's top scorer, finishing with 16 points. Keita Imamura added 10 points on 4-for-15 shooting. Known for his outside shooting skills, Hiroshima held Imamura to 0-for-9 on 3-point shots.

B.League Finals
Hiroshima's Ryo Yamazaki shoots a 3-pointer in the first quarter. (KYODO)

Game 3: Details of the First Half

The Dragonflies led 17-12 after the first quarter, one in which they held the Golden Kings to 4-for-15 shooting.

Hiroshima opened the second quarter on a 9-2 run with a trio of 3-point shots (one apiece by Toshiki Kamisawa, Blackshear and Mayo) to extend its lead to 26-15 at the 8:01 mark.

For the Golden Kings, their comeback effort started with a 9-2 spurt, with Kishimoto igniting the run with a 3-pointer. He then made a steal that led to a Law layup as Ryukyu pulled within 28-24.

Moments later, Ryukyu slashed the lead to 32-29 late in the second quarter on a Law jumper.

But the Golden Kings were unable to get over the hump.

Law and Nakamura were the leading scorers in the first half (nine points apiece). Kishimoto helped keep his team close with an eight-point effort before the intermission.

Ryukyu committed two shot-clock violations in the first half, with Hiroshima's effective defensive tactics contributing to this.

B.League Finals
Fans cheers for Takuto Nakamura and his Dragonflies teammates in the second half. (KYODO)

Key Sequence in the Third Quarter

The Golden Kings got as close as 37-35 on a pair of Jack Cooley free throws. But the Dragonflies then responded with a 7-0 spurt, taking a 44-35 lead on a nifty layup by Evans.

As noted earlier, it was a defensive struggle in the third period, with both teams scoring just 11 points.

That put the Dragonflies ahead 46-40 entering the final stanza.

Still, nothing was decided with 10 minutes remaining.

B.League Finals
Dragonflies star Dwayne Evans attacks the basket in the fourth quarter. (B.LEAGUE)

The Dragonflies Seal the Win in the Final Quarter

With 3:26 left in the fourth quarter, Dragonflies players were fired up on the sideline during a Golden Kings timeout, expressing excitement in their faces and their body language. 

Hiroshima led 56-46 after a Nakamura 3-pointer at that moment, and Ryukyu's shooting woes made it seem inevitable that a new B.League champion was about to be crowned.

Entering the playoffs, the Dragonflies were big underdogs. Very few people predicted that Milling's team would rise to the top. But their defense ensured that would happen in the B.League Finals.

B.League Finals
Hiroshima's Dwayne Evans cuts down the net after the team captured its first B.League title. Evans' teammates also helped cut down the net. (B.LEAGUE)

Game 3 in a nutshell: Ryukyu shot 3-for-13 in the third quarter and 5-for-14 in the fourth.

Congratulations from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose family comes from Hiroshima, added a layer of prestige to the Dragonflies' title-winning feat.

At 9:09 PM, Kishida's official X (formerly Twitter) account posted this short note to the Dragonflies: "Awesome, you did it! Dragonflies, congratulations on your first championship!"

B.League Finals
Dragonflies point guard Takuto Nakamura passes the ball in the second quarter. (KYODO)

Notable Impact Late in the Season

Pressed into the starting lineup in early March due to point guard Ryo Terashima's season-ending knee and leg injuries, Nakamura started 19 consecutive games to close out the season. The Dragonflies went 8-1 in his first nine games as a regular starter, starting on March 6.

Looking back on the team's championship run after Tuesday's game, Nakamura shared insights on the team's mindset in the B.League Finals.

"We came in feeling like we were the challengers," Nakamura said, according to Kyodo News.

He added, "We wanted to enjoy our time on this stage and were able to play our natural game."

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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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