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B.League Finals: Golden Kings Outplay Dragonflies in Game 1

With a series-opening victory at Yokohama Arena, the Ryukyu Golden Kings are one win away from capturing back-to-back titles in the B.League Finals.

YOKOHAMA ― Playing with intensity, unity and fluidity, the Ryukyu Golden Kings delivered a strong overall effort against the Hiroshima Dragonflies in Game 1 of the B.League Finals.

Reigning champion Ryukyu earned a 74-62 win over Hiroshima in the best-of-three series opener on Saturday afternoon, May 25 to move within one victory of winning its second consecutive title.

Game 2 is on Sunday with a 1:10 PM tipoff at Yokohama Arena.

In their storied history, the Golden Kings have won five season titles, including four in the now-disbanded bj-league (2008-09 and 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2015-16). They have a shot in this championship series to capture back-to-back titles for the first time.

Longtime Golden Kings point guard Ryuichi Kishimoto had a tone-setting performance, nailing a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and leading all players with six points in the opening stanza. American teammate Allen Durham chipped in with five first-quarter points, including a 3-pointer, and Ryukyu jumped out to a 24-16 advantage entering the second period.

Led by Kishimoto, the Golden Kings sank 5 of 8 shots from beyond the 3-point arc in the first quarter. It was an omen of things to come.

B.League Finals
Golden Kings center Jack Cooley in action in the second quarter as the Dragonflies' Tshilidzi Kawata (15) and Kerry Blackshear Jr defend. (KYODO)

Ryukyu Plays to Its Strengths

The Okinawan club's spirited performance showcased the players' championship pride and commitment to capitalizing on its strengths.

For instance, after former Golden Kings forward Dwayne Evans missed a 3-pointer for the Dragonflies 16 seconds into the game, Ryukyu swingman Keita Imamura, a fleet-footed runner in the open court, grabbed the defensive rebound and dribbled to the other end of the court. Imamura quickly released a pull-up 3-pointer on the fast break. The ball sailed through the bottom of the net for the game's first points at the 9:25 mark.

Seconds later, after Hiroshima shooting guard Ryo Yamazaki missed a layup, veteran center Jack Cooley, a former NBA player, converted a left-handed layup, courtesy of a pinpoint pass from Kishimoto. That made it 5-0 at the 8:37 mark.

Quality perimeter shooting and inside muscle from Cooley, Durham and others produced the Golden Kings' well-balanced offensive attack.

En route to a Game 1 victory before an enthusiastic crowd of 12,969, Ryukyu bench boss Dai Oketani's team knocked down 15 of 33 3s and held Hiroshima to 8-for-21 long-range shooting.

On defense, the Golden Kings had a much better effort in this series opener than in Game 1 of the B.League playoff semifinals, when the Chiba Jets torched the reigning champs 95-62 on May 18 at Okinawa Arena.

B.League Finals
Golden Kings coach Dai Oketani reacts during the game. (KYODO)

Key Factor in Game 1: Dominant Defense Pays Off for the Golden Kings

Oketani, in his instructions to players and overall strategy, repeatedly emphasizes defense and rebounding as pillars of the team's strength.

While looking back at Game 1 against Hiroshima, Oketani highlighted defense as the key to victory.

"I think we were able to fight hard on defense from the start of the game and exploit the weaknesses of our opponent on offense," Oketani told reporters after the game.

The statistics illustrated that the Golden Kings played a strong game on defense, particularly in limiting the Dragonflies to 38.3% shooting (25 of 65) from the field.

B.League Finals
Golden Kings forward Vic Law contributed seven points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench. (B.LEAGUE)

In the second quarter, when Ryukyu held Hiroshima to 3-for-15 shooting and nine points, backup forward Vic Law energized the reigning champions. Law, who had an eight-game stint with the NBA's Orlando Magic in 2020, contributed five points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal in the game-changing second quarter.

By halftime, the Golden Kings extended their lead to 43-25.

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Ryukyu Maintains Strong Play in the Third Quarter

Kishimoto and Imamura delivered another vivid snapshot of their talent late in the third quarter in a sequence that lasted 11 seconds. At the 4:10 mark, Kishimoto made a steal, and Durham dribbled upcourt and zipped the ball to Shota Onodera, who made a quick pass to Imamura. Imamura then nailed a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, one of three for him in the third quarter, to give the Golden Kings their biggest lead of the game (56-32) with 3:59 to play in the 10-minute period.

After Game 1, Imamura, who averaged 13.4 points per game in the regular season, spoke about the Golden Kings' growth and collective mindset.

"In the regular season, we fought while trying various things, and in the championship (the playoffs), we expressed what we have accumulated so far," he said. "And we have fought so far while growing as a team in each game."

Added Imamura, who had a team-high 15 points, "We will try to go into the [second] game with the same mentality as today, with the mindset that we will take the victory away from them."

Late Comeback Falls Short for the Dragonflies

The Dragonflies trailed 62-43 after three quarters. Hiroshima outscored Ryukyu 19-12 in the final quarter, but couldn't mount a successful comeback.

Meanwhile, like in the first quarter, Golden Kings standout Kishimoto led his team in scoring (six points) in the fourth quarter, finishing with 14 points, buoyed by a 4-for-9 effort on 3s, in the series opener.

B.League Finals
Allen Durham led the Golden Kings with eight assists in Game 1. (B.LEAGUE)

For Ryukyu, Imamura was the top scorer with 15 points, all coming on 3s (he attempted eight). Durham had a solid outing in all facets, chipping in with 12 points, eight assists and lockdown defense. Yoshiyuki Matsuwaki scored nine points, Law finished with seven points, seven rebounds and four assists and Hayato Maki had a six-point game.

For Hiroshima, Kerry Blackshear Jr was the team leader in points (15) rebounds (eight) and assists (four). Naturalized Japanese citizen Tshilidzi Kawata, a South African-born center, had eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. Ryo Yamazaki also scored 10 points. Evans and Mayo, who averaged 15.0 and 13.3 points in the regular season, were both held to seven points. They shot a combined 5-for-17.

B.League Finals
Fan favorites Ryuichi Kishimoto (left) and Keita Imamura congratulate each other after Ryukyu's Game 1 win. (KYODO)

The Impact of the Golden Kings' Supporters

Cooley said the large contingent of rabid Ryukyu fans, thousands of whom traveled from Okinawa to attend the B.League Finals, was a factor.

"No matter where we play, Kings fans always come to the venue and cheer us on, making it feel like home," Cooley said after the game. "Thanks to the cheers of our fans, we are able to fight hard, so we will try to repay them with our play."

Like Imamura, Cooley confessed he's determined to wrap up the championship series on Sunday. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Golden Kings had to play decisive Game 3s to reach the Finals, first against the Alvark Tokyo. In the ultra-competitive quarterfinal series, Ryukyu's two wins were both by one point, and the other game was decided by four.

"I will do my best in tomorrow's game so that Hiroshima will not be able to play comfortably," said Cooley, who had eight points and seven rebounds. His infectious energy was on display throughout the game, with a slew of plays in the third quarter (three offensive rebounds and two steals), illustrating his vital role for the Golden Kings.

By the Numbers: A Closer Look at Game 1

Ryukyu, which never trailed, had a 10-2 advantage on fast-break points.

Both teams grabbed 38 rebounds, and free-throw shooting was not a big factor for either club. The Golden Kings sank 7 of 9 while the Dragonflies made 4 of 8.

Ryukyu's biggest scoring run, an 11-0 spurt capped by a Maki 3-pointer, gave Oketani's club a 35-16 lead with 5:54 to play in the second quarter.

Hiroshima had a 26-20 advantage in points in the paint.

B.League Finals
Dragonflies coach Kyle Milling talks to his players during a break in the action. (B.LEAGUE)

Dragonflies React to Game 1 and Turn the Page to Prepare for Game 2

"I think we got off to a good start against Ryukyu," Hiroshima coach Kyle Milling said in his post-game remarks. "They showed us the power of the champion team. Overall, we were pushed up the court, and their energy and aggressiveness got the better of us from start to finish.

"However, in the second half, we continued to fight hard and played a good game. Hopefully we can make some corrections tomorrow and have a good fight."

Yamazaki mentioned defensive shortcomings by his team in the series opener, reflecting on the hot 3-point shooting by Imamura and Kishimoto.

"It is not good to let them hit that many shots in the first place. Even if there is a delay or some distance due to our defensive rotations, those two players will hit," Yamazaki commented. "We had to adjust to this during the game, but we were unable to do so. Tomorrow, I hope to make solid corrections and give an answer as to what kind of defense we will play as a team."

B.League Finals
Hiroshima's Kerry Blackshear Jr shoots over Ryukyu's Allen Durham in Game 1. Blackshear led the Dragonflies with 15 points. (B.LEAGUE)

In his reaction to Hiroshima's Game 1 loss, Blackshear said his team didn't shoot the ball well enough from close range.

"We outscored them in the paint, but the percentage numbers were pretty ugly," Blackshear said.

The veteran forward added, "We also got beat a lot inside and on [Ryukyu's] attack, which is something we need to correct. In the second half, we were able to get into a good rhythm, so tomorrow we hope to get off to a good start."


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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