YOKOHAMA ― "One more" were the final words out of veteran forward Allen Durham's mouth during his on-court interview after Game 1 of the B.League Finals.
In the best-of-three championship series opener, the Ryukyu Golden Kings (Durham's team) defeated the Chiba Jets 96-93 in double overtime.
Game 2 is set to tip off at 1:10 PM on Sunday, May 28 at Yokohama Arena.
The Golden Kings, the B.League runners-up in the 2021-22 playoffs, moved within one game of completing their oft-stated goal this season before an enthusiastic crowd of 11,410.
"First of all, as per the game plan, we were able to keep the Chiba Jets' transition [offense] and 3-point shooting in check," Ryukyu coach Dai Oketani told reporters after the game. "On offense, sometimes the ball would stop moving [for us], but we were able to make better offensive choices to win.
"We got a lot of bench points and I think we were able to show the Kings' strengths," added Oketani, "so I would like to continue to do so tomorrow."
The Golden Kings' backups outscored the Jets' bench 45-4, including Durham's 26-point effort.
Jets Express Determination to Bounce Back in Game 2
Meanwhile, the Jets, who had a league-best 53-7 record in the regular season and never lost two games in a row, were left to rue how the game ended.
That said, the team's floor leader, veteran guard Yuki Togashi, who had a game-high 31 points and eight assists, insisted the Jets, who won the 2020-21 B.League title, are still in the fight.
"It's not over at all, and I'm still confident in this [team]," Togashi told reporters later.
Jets coach John Patrick echoed Togashi's confidence, noting the team advanced to the semifinals in mid-May after dropping Game 1 of the quarterfinals against the visiting Hiroshima Dragonflies, then winning the next two games.
"[The Golden Kings had a big run in the first quarter, and we managed to catch up from there, but with Gavin [Edwards] fouling out, etc, we had a hard time stopping [Ryukyu's] offensive rebounds and Durham's one-on-ones," Patrick said.
Looking ahead to Game 2, he added: "So tomorrow, we will do our best to correct the situation."
During the regular season, Chiba faced visiting Ryukyu twice, winning 89-85 on April 1 and losing the next day, 78-76.
Setting the Stage for Overtime
With 15.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Imamura made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line, converting his second attempt. That gave Ryukyu a 77-74 lead.
After a timeout, there was plenty of time for Chiba to get the ball to one of its best shooters. Dribbling, then leaping and shooting with poise at the same time, veteran forward Vic Law sent the game into overtime with a clutch 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But what happened just before OT began? Ryukyu guard Keita Imamura's jumper from the left corner missed as the buzzer sounded.
Imamura's Biggest Shot
n the first big play of the second overtime, Imamura spotted up for a 3-pointer from the right corner. He nailed it, giving the Western Conference champion Golden Kings (48-12 in the regular season) an 85-82 lead at the 4:27 mark courtesy of a pass from Ryuichi Kishimoto.
The Jets never tied or led again.
Ultimately, the Golden Kings were a little better in the second OT. And that was after neither team made much of an impression on offense in the first OT, a 5-minute period, when both teams only scored five points apiece.
In the second overtime, Imamura paced the Golden Kings with six points. He was the only player on either team to knock down a 3-pointer in the tense 5-minute period. Chiba was 0-for-6 from long range in the second OT.
Catching his breath and collecting his thoughts after the game ended, Imamura said: "I think it was good that we were able to move one step closer toward the championship [and] I think today's victory was the result of perseverance in the face of some tough times."
He added, "And I am glad that everyone played with the determination to take this one win."
Game 1: By the Numbers
Several players had notable performances in this gritty contest, which featured 167 total shots from the field (84 for Ryukyu and 83 for Chiba).
In addition to Togashi, Jets teammate John Mooney, a University of Notre Dame alum had 26 points and 22 rebounds, while Northwestern University product Law and Shuta Hara finished with 16 and 12 points, respectively.
As noted earlier, Durham, a Grace Bible College alum who joined the Golden Kings in 2021, made a big impact with 26 points and also grabbed 14 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Josh Duncan, a Xavier University product, chipped in with 15 points, while Imamura and Jack Cooley, another former Notre Dame player, both scored 14. Duncan snared 13 rebounds to finish with a double-double, and Cooley pulled down 12 boards before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Chiba Plagued by Foul Trouble
Chiba's lineup was also affected by foul trouble. Gavin Edwards, a naturalized Japanese who played for the Japan national team in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Law and Asato Ogawa all fouled out. Edwards only played 11-plus minutes. He was whistled for two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, and picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter.
As a result of foul trouble and the length of the game, three Jets starters (Togashi, Mooney and Hara) all logged 44-plus minutes. Nobody on the Golden Kings played more than Durham's 38:33.
One of Chiba's franchise cornerstones since joining the club in 2017, Edwards had 19 points in the team's series-clinching win over the Alvark Tokyo in the playoff semifinals on May 21.
Ryukyu Finishes Strong in Opening Quarter
Chiba led 11-5 with 6:12 to play in the first quarter. Ryukyu answered with a 17-0 scoring spurt to pull ahead 22-11 on a Durham basket at the 1:44 mark.
The Golden Kings led 27-15 at the end of the first quarter. Duncan and Yoshiyuki Matsuwaki scored seven and six points, respectively, to spark the team in the opening period.
But with a 21-point effort in the second quarter, the Jets trimmed the lead to 41-36 entering the second half. Duncan had the final points of the second quarter on a buzzer-beating putback. It was a recurring theme in the game ― Ryukyu had a 26-12 advantage in second-chance points.
Togashi and Mooney had 13 points apiece in the opening half.
Chiba Chips Away at the Lead
Chiba outscored Ryukyu 18-15 in the third quarter to pull within 56-54 entering the final stanza.
Throughout the game, the Golden Kings squandered a number of opportunities to extend their lead due to their poor results at the free-throw line (21 of 34). Ryukyu shot 73.6% on free throws in the regular season.
Conversely, the Jets made 29 of 35 from the line.
Ryukyu outrebounded Chiba 60-51, including 24-19 on the offensive glass.
Players Aiming to Improve in Game 2
"I think it was a very exciting and physical game," Law said before lamenting that the Jets' opponent outrebounded them.
He added, "We didn't shoot as well as we would have liked today, so we will work on those areas for tomorrow's game."
And how did Durham analyze his team's overall performance?
"It was a deadly battle with double overtime, but I think we were able to win the match while raising each other up," Durham commented after Game 1.
"While reviewing the video, I would like to improve what we can improve for tomorrow and grab the next win," he added.
- B.League Finals: Chiba Jets and Ryukyu Golden Kings to Vie for Title
- Ryukyu Golden Kings Utilize a Balanced Approach to Passing
- Masters of Rebounding: Ryukyu's Cooley, Chiba's Mooney Grab the Spotlight
- [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Chiba Jets Adapting to New Coach John Patrick's Style of Play
Author: Ed Odeven