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Sunday, April 22, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE

Evessa advance to bj-league championship game


Staff writer

The Osaka Evessa showed their championship mettle on Saturday when it mattered most: in the fourth quarter.

News photo
Osaka Evessa's Matt Lottich goes up for a basket against the Oita HeatDevils at Tokyo's Ariake Colosseum on Saturday. The Evessa won 69-63 to advance to Sunday's bj-league championship game. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

They used a game-changing 11-0 run en route to a 69-63 victory over the Oita HeatDevils to earn a spot in Sunday's bj-league championship game.

"We just came through," said Evessa power forward Lynn Washington, the league's reigning MVP.

Osaka faces the Takamatsu Five Arrows winner in Sunday's title game at 4:15 p.m. at Ariake Colosseum. The HeatDevils will play the Niigata Albirex BB in the third-place game.

Super sub David Palmer scored a game-high 27 points, reaching double-digits for the 35th straight game.

"David's contribution was huge for us," Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said, noting his seven defensive rebounds made a big difference against the oversized HeatDevils.

Osaka trailed 49-42 entering the final quarter.

Chris Ayer pushed Oita's lead to four seconds later. Washington answered with a layup for the Evessa. Ayer answered with a forceful dunk that sent Washington flying into a photographer underneath the basket.

Then Osaka used the aforementioned run to seize control of the game. It started with Jeff Newton's mid-range jumper. Palmer swished a 3-pointer from the right wing, Newton, who missed the regular season's four final games, jammed one through the net, which prompted Oita coach Dai Oketani to call a timeout.

After the break, HeatDevils guard Kohei Mitomo was stripped in the backcourt by Osaka's Matt Lottich (10 points, five assists), who quickly turned the takeaway into two points on a layup. Newton added another jam for good measure. That gave the defending champs a 60-53 advantage.

Ayer ended the run with a putback.

But Palmer nailed a 3 to push the lead back to 63-55 with 3:45 to play. He finished 5-for-9 from 3-point range

"My teammates are constantly looking to pass the ball to me in places that I can score," Palmer said later.

Oita's miscues during Osaka's pivotal run proved to be costly.

"We wanted to enter the game well and it became so," said Oita guard Yukinori Suzuki, who had 15 points and six assists. "But we had some turnovers in critical situations and it was what the game was all about. . . . I could play with pleasure, but as a point guard, it was pity that I could not make the team work well. I had more jitters than in the regular season."

Ayer made a pair of blocks during a three-possession stretch and Mikey Marshall scored an inside hoops to cut it to 65-59. The Evessa had the ball with 2:05 left on an inbounds play.

Ellis jammed in a putback off a Marshall miss, giving the top-seeded Osaka a valiant fight in the closing minutes. A 65-63 score was the result, with the Evessa up with 1:12 to go and the ball at halfcourt. Newton inbounded it to Lottich and Osaka set up its offense in the half-court set.

Washington's turn-around jumper hit the backboard but not the rim as the shot clock wound down.

Ellis missed his hook shot on the next possession. It appeared he was fouled by Newton on the right block.

Oketani said he thought it was a foul. "(There was) contact on the arm," he said, "but no call."

Ellis had a different perspective.

"I just left it short," he said.

Seconds later, the Evessa had the ball and 13.1 seconds to go when Washington nailed the first of a one-and-one to make it 66-63.

He calmly sank the second one, and it was 67-63.

Washington finished 4-for-18 from the field but was 8-for-8 at the charity stripe and had a team-best 11 rebounds.

On the next possession, Marshall missed a layup and Oita sent Palmer to the line with 5.9 seconds left. He missed the front end of a one-and-one and the HeatDevils called a timeout with 4.3 ticks to go.

Mitomo threw a high pass for a backdoor lob for Marshall, but it was intercepted by Washington, and he was sent to the line for another one-on-one. Marshall fouled out on the play and the reigning MVP made both foul shots, to account for the game's final score.

Suzuki's long 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

Tennichi looked relieved more than excited in the postgame interview room.

"Except for the beginning of the first quarter, we were so-so," he said. "We could only score 10 in the first, where we normally score more than 20 and have 80 in a whole game. But our defense was OK, and we played well afterwards. I think it was a game that led to tomorrow's game. We had some easy mistakes on offense. But if you have those today, you're not going to have tomorrow. So I'm optimistic. It was good we had those today."

The HeatDevils were the hot shooting team at the start, grabbing a 9-0 lead to start the game.

Washington said the team's composure was the key during this stretch, as important as it was in the fourth quarter.

Osaka, which missed jumpers and inside shots with equal occurrence, also misfired on its first seven shots.

The Evessa finally got on the board on a David Palmer bank shot at 4:48 mark. That made it 9-2.

The Evessa used an 8-2 run -- capped by a Washington putback -- to pull within 11-8.

The HeatDevils led 17-10 after one quarter. The Evessa missed all seven of their 3-point attempts in the quarter.

Ellis, known more for his scoring (he was No. 2 in the bj-league with a 25.1 points per game average) than rebounding prowess, grabbed seven boards in the opening stanza.

Palmer scored the first six points of the second quarter on a pair of 3s, cutting it to 17-16.

Osaka took its first lead of the game, 20-19, with 6:45 to go in the second quarter, getting the go-ahead bucket by Lottich on a dunk after he raced untouched down court following a steal.

Oita trailed 31-26 at the half, but Ellis was the game's top presence in that span with 13 points and 10 boards. He ended up with monster numbers: 21 points and 20 rebounds.

"I think since we have now experienced the circumstances of playoffs, it will (carry over) to next year," Suzuki said.



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