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Sunday, May 16, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE

Confident Phoenix beat Apache in playoff opener


Staff writer

HAMAMATSU, Shizuoka Pref. — Kazuo Nakamura looked content, excited, relaxed and impressed with his charges during various stages of Saturday's work shift.

News photo
Shining armor: William Knight, seen here in action earlier this season, helped the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix beat the Tokyo Apache on Saturday. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

At no point during the night, however, did he appear worried.

The reason? The veteran coach's team, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, destroyed the Tokyo Apache 96-68 in the opening game of the bj-league's Eastern Conference semifinals at Hamamatsu Arena.

"Our defensive trap and quick defensive rotation paid off," Nakamura said. "We'll have the same plan for tomorrow."

William Knight paced the Phoenix with 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting in 22 minutes. Regular-season MVP Wendell White made a major impact in all facets of the game and finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals. Sharpshooter Wayne Arnold added 19 points, Jermaine Green poured in 10 points and Kazutoshi Ota added nine.

"It was great," White said, describing his team's triumph. "We blew them out and got the win and we were aggressive from the start. That's what we came here to do."

Arnold said the team's game plan worked perfectly.

"We didn't want to give the Apache a chance to get going on offense because they have some explosive players," he added, citing All-Stars Cohey Aoki and Julius Ashby.

Tokyo, the championship runnerup in the past two bj-league finals, faces a must-win Game 2 on Sunday afternoon in order to force the mini-tiebreaker and get a chance to return to Ariake Colosseum for next weekend's Final Four.

"We played really bad today," Tokyo coach Motofumi Aoki said. "From the start, we really panicked."

"We plan to play better tomorrow."

Ashby, who had a 14-point game, was the Apache's only double-digit scorer. Rasheed Sparks and Aoki both scored nine.

Hamamatsu led 48-21 at the break.

Simply put, the Apache, making their first playoff appearance under first-year coach Aoki, played a horrendous first half. They took rushed, ugly shots and appeared slow and confused on defensive rotations.

One revealing sequence late in the second quarter was a microcosm of the Apache's struggles. Sparks grabbed an offensive rebound and then shot an air ball near the right baseline. Seconds later, Aoki's shot on a 1-on-2 breakaway layup attempt was stuffed.

Tokyo's 10 first-half turnovers coupled with Hamamatsu's seven steals and six blocks in that span gave the first-place hosts a tremendous boost of confidence and took the Apache offense out of the flow of the game.

The Phoenix raced out to a 22-2 lead to start the opening quarter and took a 21-point advantage into the second stanza.

Tokyo shot 2-for-16 from the floor in the first quarter.

How bad was it?

Five Apache players missed all of their field-goal attempts in the first quarter.

Ouch.

On the other end of the floor, Phoenix put on a shooting clinic, converting 4 of 4 3-point attempts and making 7 of 12 shots from inside the arc.

Arnold provided the biggest jolt for the high-powered Hamamatsu offense in the tone-setting quarter, with his 13 points on 4-for-4 shooting (3-for-3 from beyond the arc).

To their credit, the Phoenix double-teamed the ball handler on nearly every possession. They placed tenacious defense, forced Tokyo shooters into difficult shooting angles and cut off their passing lanes and free space.

Hamamatsu maintained its high-energy level in the third quarter and extended its lead to 77-37 before the start of the final stanza.

After Dzaflo Larkai's hook shot put the Phoenix ahead 50-21 at the start of the third, the Apache trailed by at least 29 points for the remainder of the quarter.

Tokyo's shooting woes continued as the game progressed. The Apache missed 12 of their first 13 3s (through three quarters) and clanked 30 of 41 two-point shots in that span.

In Saturday's other Eastern Conference semifinal series, the visiting Niigata Albirex BB edged the Sendai 89ers 84-83.

The Albirex overcame a nine-point deficit with 7:13 left and grabbed momentum.

Calvin Chitwood's pair of free throws with 10 seconds left put Niigata ahead 84-80. Sendai standout Josh Peppers' 3-pointer with 6 seconds left accounted for the game's final points.

Uche Echefu scored 26 points to lead the Albirex, Chitwood finished with 16 and Paul Butorac had 15 points and eight boards. Shuhei Komatsu and Yuichi Ikeda both scored eight, while Akitomo Takeno and Takato Sato each dished out five assists.

For the 89ers, Peppers had a team-high 32 points, Chris Holm added 17 points and 18 rebounds and Takehiko Shimura and Kenichi Takahashi both handed out six assists.

In other playoff openers on Saturday, the Western Conference regular-season champion Osaka Evessa edged the Shiga Lakestars 61-60 and the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings downed the Rizing Fukuoka 85-70.

The losers must win Sunday's Game 2s to force a decisive tiebreaker (10-minute period) to be held immediately after the second game.

Osaka star Lynn Washington scored the game-winning basket with no time remaining on the game clock as the hosts completed a fourth-quarter comeback.

The host Evessa trailed 53-46 entering the fourth quarter, but chipped away at the lead.

Washington tied it at 59-59 with 27 seconds left. Shiga's Masashi Joho and Mikey Marshall missed 3-point shots down the stretch and Chris Schlatter made the first of two free throws after Washington tied the game.

With nine seconds remaining, Osaka's Nile Murry grabbed a defensive rebound and quickly got the ball to Washington, setting the stage for his last-second heroics in Kobe.

Osaka outscored Shiga 15-7 in the fourth quarter.

Washington scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and David Palmer scored 16 for the Evessa, who won their third straight title in the spring of 2008.

Ryan Blackwell added eight points and Murry had 10 rebounds for coach Kensaku Tennichi's club.

For Shiga, playing its first-ever playoff contest, Joho was the top scorer with 17 points, Marshall added 11 points and nine boards and Ray Schafer (10 points, 10 boards) and Gary Hamilton (10 points, 15 rebounds) both posted double-doubles.

In Okinawa, Anthony McHenry scored 18 points to lead a balanced offensive attack that featured five double-digit scorers as the Golden Kings moved one win away from advancing to the Final Four for the second straight season.

McHenry added six rebounds and seven assists for good measure, while reigning playoff MVP Jeff Newton had 15 points and nine rebounds for Ryukyu.

Masashi Obuchi and Bryan Simpson added 14 points apiece, while Yosuke Sugawara scored 12 to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Kevin Steenberge chipped in with six points and seven boards.

Michael Parker led the Rizing with 29 points and Marlyn Bryant and Thiago Cordeiro each scored 12 points. No other Fukuoka player scored more than six points.

Hawks fire Woodson

ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Hawks made significant improvement under Mike Woodson. They just wondered how much farther he could take them.

Woodson was let go as coach of the Hawks on Friday, just four days after the team was swept in the second round of the playoffs by the Orlando Magic.

General manager Rick Sund, after consulting with the ownership group, decided not to offer Woodson a new contract. So ended a six-year coaching tenure in which the Hawks won just 13 games in his first season, then improved their record every year since — including three straight playoff appearances.

Atlanta won 53 games this season, the most since 1996-97, and captured the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. But that wasn't enough to save Woodson's job, especially when the Hawks were routed by the Magic in the most lopsided four-game sweep in NBA history.



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