What defined the 2022-23 B.League season?
Some storylines linked the 2022-23 season to the previous campaign, such as individual players' performances and continued success for various teams. Most notably, a pair of elite teams (Ryukyu Golden Kings, Chiba Jets) that stayed in the title chase throughout the season captivated Japan pro basketball fans in the B.League Finals.
A classic duel in Game 1 of the B.League Finals on Saturday, May 27 ended with a 96-93 double-overtime triumph for the Golden Kings.
Then, a day later, the Jets fell short of their bid to force a winner-take-all Game 3, losing 88-73 at Yokohama Arena.
Since the launch of the league in 2016, Chiba appeared in the B.League Finals for the fourth time following runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2019 and its first title in 2021.
Ryukyu's Storybook Drama
When the B.League Finals wrapped up, the Golden Kings were back on the top for the first time since 2016. They won more titles (four) in the now-dissolved bj-league than any other franchise.
Adding to the storybook drama of Ryukyu's return to glory was this: Dai Oketani guided the Golden Kings to bj-league titles in the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. Oketani left the team in 2012 and, after coaching stops in Iwate, Osaka and Sendai, he rejoined the Okinawa organization as coach in 2021, with the mission of ending the team's championship drought.
Getting swept by the Utsunomiya Brex in the 2022 B.League Finals had fueled the Golden Kings' focus since this past season tipped off. It motivated them every day of the season.
Ryukyu's commitment to excellence was one defining trait of the 2022-23 campaign. Oketani has now won three championships in his pro coaching career. To put that feat in perspective, only two active NBA coaches have won more titles ― guys named Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich with four and five, respectively.
"Way back in the beginning of the season we knew that we had the pieces to get back to the championship [series], and we knew that we had to tweak some things from the finals last year." That was how Golden Kings forward Allen Durham, sitting alongside guard Koh Flippin and Oketani, explained it to reporters after Game 2 on Sunday, May 28.
Focus Paid Off for Golden Kings
For Ryukyu, what was the key to capturing the title?
The key to completing the team's title question, according to Durham, was easy to define: "We just stayed hungry, stayed patient and stayed together, and it showed this weekend playing against the top team."
In defining the Golden Kings' success over the years, Oketani said a "wonderful basketball culture" is a chief trait of the franchise, citing players, the coaching staff and the entire organization as being committed to the same goals.
Flippin Rebounds from Personal Disappointment
After finishing with more turnovers (three) than points (two) in Game 1 against the Jets, in nearly 10 minutes of court time, Flippin wasn't happy. He described it as a terrible performance.
Oketani didn't lose his trust in Flippin's ability to make an impact, though. Flippin wasn't put in the proverbial doghouse.
Instead, the backup guard's playing time nearly tripled in Game 2, and he responded with a team-high 21 points, including 10-for-10 at the free-throw line and three big 3-pointers, and eight assists in 27 minutes.
"I knew I couldn't let that happen again today," Flippin said of his Game 1 struggles after Ryukyu's title-clinching win. "So I was just trying to take care of the ball today."
On making a few key 3-pointers, he said: "I was just going based off of rhythm, which is taking the open shots, I wasn't trying to force anything, and just trying to play in the flow of the game."
Summing up the conclusion of Ryukyu's dream come true, Flippin, an American-born player whose mother is Japanese, declared, "This is priceless, you can't really put a price on it. It's unbelievable and it's something that none of us will ever really forget."
Quality Teams at the Top
Seven of the B.League's 24 teams won 40 or more games this past season. Collectively, it was very impressive, and it gave basketball fans exposure to high-quality competition in all regions of the country.
The Jets had a remarkable 53-7 regular-season record, and the Golden Kings and Shimane Susanoo Magic set the pace in the West with identical 48-12 records. Also, the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins had a 43-17 mark, the Hiroshima Dragonflies went 41-18, the Alvark Tokyo were 42-18 under first-year coach Dainius Adomaitis and the Kawasaki Brave Thunders finished with a 40-20 mark.
Buford Did It All for Shimane
In addition to leading the B.League in scoring (22.5 points per game) and finishing eighth in rebounds (9.5) and second in assists (7.9), Perrin Buford notched 10 triple-doubles in his 58 games.
It takes tremendous energy and effort to fill the stat sheet with as many points, rebounds and assists that defined Buford's all-around performance this season.
When the playoffs commenced, Buford continued to excel for the Susanoo Magic, who fell to the Alvark in a three-game, first-round series. He had three more triple-doubles in the playoffs, including 33 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists in the opener. It was the type of game that Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, one of the best players in the world, has had again and again in leading his team to the 2023 NBA Finals.
Other Big Highlights of the B.League Season
Who can forget the Jets' league-record 24-game winning streak from December 2022 to March 2023?
Two years after ex-coach Atsushi Ono led the Jets to the title, there was never a time throughout the 60-game season when the Jets were not considered championship contenders. Coach John Patrick, who was hired last offseason, brought fierce determination and high-basketball IQ to the team. He proved to be a terrific hire for the Jets, and worked brilliantly in putting his own stamp on the team.
Individual brilliance also marked the play of Jets guard Yuki Togashi and Diamond Dolphins guard Takumi Saito and many others around the league as tone-setting performers for their respective teams. Both men are great passers. Togashi's 31-point effort in Game 1 against Ryukyu was a reminder of his gutsy scoring mindset.
Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Yuki Kawamura, considered by many to be the best Japanese player under age 25 in the B.League, took his game to the next level. The 22-year-old averaged 19.5 points (more than any other Japanese player) and led the league in assists (8.5). Kawamura generated excitement every time he stepped onto the floor.
In April, the opening of the Gunma Crane Thunders' new state-of-the-art venue, Open House Arena Ota, gave the franchise greater visibility in Tochigi Prefecture and brought positive publicity to the league, too.
Looking Ahead to 2023-24
The excitement generated by the Saga Ballooners and Nagasaki Velca in the B.League second division en route to earning promotion to B1 ― with Saga winning the finals and Nagasaki as the runner-up ― expands the reach of the league in the western region of Japan. And that's a positive development.
As the B.League moves closer to completing its first decade of existence, it should be noted the quality of play has improved, media coverage has increased and new arenas have been built and are being constructed. All of those things are highlights, too.
Author: Ed Odeven