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Sunday, May 3, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE

Unheralded players shine in Evessa win


Staff writer

New heroes emerge in the postseason.

Shota Konno and Jun Nakanishi gave the Osaka Evessa a big boost in Game 1 of the bj-league's Western Conference semifinals on Saturday.

Konno scored a season-high 19 points and Nakanishi also had his best scoring outing of the 2008-09 campaign, an 18-point effort, in the Evessa's 88-81 home win over the Takamatsu Five Arrows.

With injured starters Kazuya Hatano (ankle) and Naoto Nakamura (leg) out of the lineup, Osaka coach Kensaku Tennichi relied on Konno and Nakanishi to play bigger roles in the postseason. Konno averaged 2.6 points per game in the regular season, but had three double-digit scoring outings in the final four regular-season games. Nakanishi averaged 3.5 ppg.

Both players responded to the challenge in the series opener as the three-time defending champions walked off the Moriguchi City Memorial Gym in Osaka Prefecture with a familiar feeling: the satisfaction of a playoff victory.

The teams meet at 1 p.m. on Sunday for Game 2. Takamatsu must win Game 2 to force a 5-minute "mini-game," which would be held moments after the game to determine which team will advance to play the Ryukyu Golden Kings-Rizing Fukuoka winner in the Western Conference final on May 16 at Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.

Two-time MVP Lynn Washington had a team-best 28 points and 13 rebounds for Osaka. Point guard Nile Murry added 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while veteran forward Ryan Blackwell had nine points and 12 boards.

Nakanishi buried a 3-pointer for game's first basket and the Evessa held a 26-18 advantage after one quarter. Washington scored 15 first-quarter points.

Osaka led 38-27 after Murry's 3-point play with 5:41 left in the opening half. Takamatsu ended the half on a 12-5 spurt to pull within 43-39.

The 24-year-old Konno shouldered the offensive load in the third quarter, scoring 15 of Osaka's 24 points and outscoring the entire Five Arrows squad by two in that span.

After three quarters, Washington had already copied the template of excellence for a power forward — 20 points, 10 rebounds — by putting 23 points and 10 boards on the stat sheet at that time. This Herculean effort occurred two days after the bj-league chose Ryukyu's Jeff Newton, his ex-teammate, as this season's MVPs. Call it a bold statement by the Evessa's No. 44 that he remains a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

Takamatsu trailed 67-52 entering the fourth quarter. Seventeen seconds into the fourth, that margin increased to 17 after a Murry basket.

The Five Arrows were in catch-up mode in the fourth, but were unable to overcome the 17-point deficit down the stretch. They made it interesting, however, especially in the final minute, getting a 3-pointer from Rasheed Sparks to trim the lead to 81-75 with 46 seconds remaining.

Takamatsu center Babacar Camara, playing in his first bj-league playoff game, had a game-high 30 points and 10 rebounds. Sparks finished with a 24 point, four-rebound, seven-assist performance. All-Star power forward Gordon James returned to the lineup after a 10-game absence due to a knee injury and posted a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds).

Five Arrows guard Kazuyuki Nakagawa, who averaged 12.6 ppg this season, and teammate Yu Okada, a 12.5 ppg scorer, failed to make an impact as point-getters in this contest. Nakagawa had two points. Okada had zero points on 0-for-10 shooting, but did hand out seven assists.

The Five Arrows will likely need double-digit scoring efforts from either Nakagawa or Okada — maybe both — if they hope to beat the Evessa in Game 2.

In the regular season, five of the eight contests between the teams were decided by five points or less. The other three were blowouts of 20 points or more, with two of those wins belonging to Takamatsu.

Osaka now holds a 5-4 series lead in 2008-09.

The Evessa have the edge heading into a pivotal Game 2, and the champion's swagger helped them in the series opener. Can Osaka get the same productivity out of its role players in the rematch? Can a sense of desperation be a positive force for the Five Arrows in the rematch?



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