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B.League Playoffs: Golden Kings and Dragonflies Advance to the Finals

Reigning champion Ryukyu eliminated the Chiba Jets and Hiroshima held off the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins to set the stage for the B.League Finals in Yokohama.

A pair of Western Conference rivals will meet in the B.League Finals.

The wild-card entrant Hiroshima Dragonflies reached the championship series for the first time by beating the Western Conference champion Nagoya Diamond Dolphins 79-73 in Game 3 of the semifinals on Monday, May 20.

On Tuesday, the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings punched their ticket to the B.League Finals with an 83-67 win over the Chiba Jets in Game 3 at Okinawa Arena.

The B.League Finals, a best-of-three series, is set for Saturday, Sunday and, if necessary, Tuesday, May 25, 26 and 28. Tipoff times for the three games are as follows: 12 PM, 1:10 PM and 7:05 PM at Yokohama Arena.

During the 2023-24 regular season, the Golden Kings defeated the Dragonflies in three of their four matches.

On December 16, 2023, Ryukyu won 80-73 at Okinawa Arena, followed by a 76-71 victory the next day.

Hiroshima beat visiting Ryukyu 69-59 on May 4, and the Golden Kings bounced back with an 89-80 verdict in the teams' final regular-season game, closing out the season with a 41-19 record. Hiroshima qualified as one of eight playoff participants with a 36-24 record.

B.League
Ryukyu guard Shota Onodera runs the offense in the first half on May 21 at Okinawa Arena. (B.LEAGUE)

Golden Kings Build a Commanding Lead in Game 3

After being hammered 95-62 in Game 1 of the B.League semifinal series on May 18, the Golden Kings rebounded with an 81-63 victory the next day to force a decisive Game 3.

Playing before their home fans at Okinawa Arena, with an announced crowd of 8,712 on Tuesday night, Ryukyu was fired up from the get-go, jumping out to a 22-14 lead by the end of the first quarter.

B.League
The Golden Kings' Allen Durham in action in Game 3 as the Jets' John Mooney defends. (B.LEAGUE)

By halftime, the reigning champs extended their lead to 46-31. Former NBA center Jack Cooley had 10 points and Allen Durham and Hayato Maki both scored eight in the opening half.

For Chiba, Yuki Togashi had 15 points to carry the offense.

The Jets made a slight dent in the deficit in the third quarter but still trailed 65-55 entering the fourth.

Facing Ryukyu's tenacious defense, Togashi was not a big factor in the second half. He finished with 18 points and six assists and made just 1 of 9 3s. Teammates Christopher Smith and Xavier Cooks had 15 and 14 points, respectively. Chiba was held to 27-for-69 shooting (39%).

B.League
Chiba's Yuki Togashi shoots a jumper in the first half. (B.LEAGUE)

Cooley had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) and was named the game MVP, much to the delight of the high-energy crowd.

Durham chipped in with 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Vic Law had 13 points, Hayato Maki chipped in with 11, Ryuichi Kishimoto scored nine and Shota Onodera had eight.

B.League
Golden Kings center Jack Cooley (B.LEAGUE)

Golden Kings React to Their Game 3 Win

"I'm so proud of the way we played," Cooley said on the court after the game, "and the way you guys (the fans) came out to support us on this rainy day."

Smiling and full of joy, Cooley added this message for the clapping fans: "Thank you all for your support. Now let's go get two more [wins]."

The Golden Kings swept the Jets in the B.League Finals in May 2023. 

Then, on March 16, Chiba made a big statement with a 117-69 triumph in the 99th All Japan Basketball Championship, aka Emperor's Cup final, at Saitama Super Arena.

Overall, the playoff series against the perennial title-contending Jets was a valuable test, according to team captain Kishimoto. "It really gave us a chance to grow as a team," he said.

In his instant analysis after the game, Golden Kings bench boss Dai Oketani commended his players for their effort and composure against the Jets.

"Chiba had a good third quarter, but then we were able to take it (momentum) back in the fourth quarter," Oketani noted.

Oketani expressed confidence that his team will defend its title against Hiroshima.

"We have a chance to go back-to-back," he said, "and we will."

B.League
Hiroshima Dragonflies forward Dwayne Evans shoots a layup in Game 3 of a B.League semifinal series against the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins on May 20 in Nagoya. (B.LEAGUE)

It's just a shoe!

The Road to the B.League Finals: Dragonflies Soar Past Diamond Dolphins in Game 3

After Hiroshima's 79-75 Game 1 win at Nagoya on May 18, the Diamond Dolphins forced a decisive Game 3 by winning the second game 84-77.

In the high-stakes series finale on Monday, Saint Louis University alum Dwayne Evans sparked the Dragonflies with 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Teammates Ryo Yamazaki and Nick Mayo each had 19-point performances and Takuto Nakamura scored six points. Yamazaki canned 5 of 6 3-point shots. Mayo made 4 of 7.

As a team, Hiroshima knocked down 15 of 28 3s. Seiya Funyu dished out five assists in the efficient offensive effort.

The Dragonflies dominated the first and fourth quarters, putting a combined 43 points on the board and holding the Diamond Dolphins to 26. 

B.League
Diamond Dolphins guard Takumi Saito competes in Game 3 as Dragonflies small forward Seiya Funyu defends. (B.LEAGUE)

Ray Parks Jr led Nagoya with 20 points, Yutaro Suda scored 12 and Taito Nakahigashi had 10. Dynamic point guard Takumi Saito, who sustained a leg injury with 6:26 left in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the game, finished with nine points and three assists.

Nagoya led 60-59 entering the fourth quarter.

The Dragonflies' poise in the final 10 minutes paid off.

"Hiroshima was really terrific in today's game," Diamond Dolphins coach Shawn Dennis told reporters in a post-game news conference. "Even when we were playing catch-up, Evans, Mayo and Yamazaki made sure to make shots in important situations, and I have nothing but praise for them."

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Dragonflies head coach Kyle Milling (B.LEAGUE)

Hiroshima's Recipe for Success

Kyle Milling, an American-born head coach in his third season at Hiroshima, said the Dragonflies have earned a shot at the title because of "our team chemistry."

Speaking on the Amazon Prime Video webcast, the coach added, "The players believe in themselves and they believe in each other, and I thank them for believing in the coaching staff as well, and the key to a true team is when everybody is bonded together and that's what we have."

Looking ahead to the B.League Finals, Milling had an upbeat message for Hiroshima's rabid supporters. 

"The season is not over," he said. "We have two more to get and we are going to get it."

B.League
The Shiga Lakes pose for a team photo after winning the B2 title on May 19 at Shiga Daihatsu Arena in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. (B.LEAGUE)

B2 Finals: Shiga Lakes Complete Sweep of Koshigaya Alphas

The Shiga Lakes defeated the visiting Koshigaya Alphas 89-87 in Game 2 of the B2 Finals on Sunday, May 19 to wrap up the best-of-three championship series.

Veteran big man Justin Burrell, a St. John's University alum, led the Lakes with 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting in the title-clinching win. Four teammates also scored in double figures, including Australian forward Brock Motum, a key offseason pickup for Shiga, who poured in 17 points at Shiga Daihatsu Arena.

Point guard Shun Matsuyama led the Alphas with 24 points.

Koshigaya's LJ Peak scored an inside bucket with 10 seconds remaining to account for the final score.

In Game 1, Shiga outlasted Koshigaya 96-87 in overtime on Saturday, May 18.

Motum had 37 points, making 15 of 20 shots from the field, pulled down 14 rebounds and handed out seven assists in a banner performance. The Alphas' Justin Harper had 28 points.

Promotion to B1 for Shiga and Koshigaya

The Lakes (44-16 in the regular season) earned promotion to B1 for the 2024-25 campaign. Shiga was demoted to B2 following the 2022-23 season when it had a 14-46 record in B1. 

By advancing to the B2 Finals, Koshigaya (35-25 in the regular season), guided by head coach Ryuzo Anzai, also secured a spot in B1 for next season.

The Alphas upset the Altiri Chiba, who had a B2-best 54-6 regular-season record, in the playoff semifinals.

In the third-place series, the Altiri defeated the visiting Yamagata Wyverns 92-72 on Saturday and 97-79 on Sunday.

B.League
Shiga Lakes star Justin Burrell speaks in a post-game interview on May 19 after his team captured the B2 Finals title at Shiga Daihatsu Arena. (B.LEAGUE)

Satisfaction for Shiga

After leading the Lakes to the B2 title on Sunday, Shiga head coach David Gomez said, "Shiga will always be in my heart because the first team I got a championship with as a head coach was the Lakes, and it was also the first championship for the club." 

Gomez said that he's developed a special bond with the Lakes players, creating an ideal environment for his passion for coaching.

"I look forward to going to practice and think they are all special," he said of Shiga's players.

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Lakes guard Kiefer Ravena (B.LEAGUE)

Ravena Describes the Thrill of Winning the Title

For the Lakes, veteran Filipino guard Kiefer Ravena elevated his game in the playoffs. After averaging 12.4 points and 5.5 assists during the regular season, Ravena contributed 19.0 points and 5.9 assists in the Lakes' seven postseason games.

The Lakes reached the B2 Finals by winning back-to-back playoff series against the Aomori Wat's and Wyverns.

"Winning is all that matters," Ravena, who joined Shiga in 2021, told reporters after Game 2. "A win is what we really wanted, and we are really happy to finish [with the title] after our promotion to B1 with a win. That is all that matters."

Looking back on the team's relegation to B2, followed by securing promotion a year later, Ravena credited the organization for its work ethic.

"I think it is the result of hard work by everyone," he commented. "The other players and staff as well, including in the off-season. That is why we were able to grow from last year to this year. We were able to finish the year not only with promotion but also with a championship. I am proud to be a part of this organization."

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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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