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Monday, May 24, 2010
Phoenix confirm superiority with bj-league championship triumph
By ED ODEVEN
From start to finish, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix were the bj-league's best team this season.
They proved that again in the postseason, routing the Tokyo Apache by 28 points in their playoff opener and concluding their four-victory playoff run in style.
What was their crowning achievement?
A convincing 84-56 victory over the Osaka Evessa on Sunday in the 2009-10 bj-league title game at Ariake Colosseum gave coach Kazuo Nakamura's squad its first bj-league title.
Hamamatsu, which defected from the JBL and joined the bj-league for the 2008-09 season, turned a close game into a rout in the fourth quarter. The Phoenix led 59-49 after Osaka's Lynn Washington nailed a 3-pointer, but Nakamura's squad rose to the occasion. They used a 25-7 run to close out the game and effectively shut down the Evessa offense down the stretch.
The sprightly Nakamura, who turns 70 in December, was given the customary victory doage by his players after the game.
He praised the fans' support by saying, "Our Hamamatsu Higashimikawa fans, we won the title because of you!"
As the Phoenix lead kept growing in the second half, Nakamura realized a victory was a done deal.
"I was overcome by tranquillity," he said, explaining his emotions.
'I feel great. I'm extremely happy."
Hamamatsu (45-11 overall) defeated Osaka three times this season (by three and 14 points in early December at home), followed by the one-sided playoff triumph.
Phoenix center Dzaflo Larkai's inside strength (8-for-13 from the field) produced a team-high 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds. UCLA product William Knight, a stabilizing force all season at both ends of the floor, added 18 points. Regular-season MVP Wendell White scored 17 points, while Shingo Okada and Masahiro Oguchi, who was named the playoff MVP, poured in eight apiece.
Hamamatsu made up for a poor 3-point shooting performance (4-for-25) by making 23 of 44 shots from inside the arc and by shooting 86.7 percent (26-for-30 at the free-throw line). In addition, the Phoenix's superior depth helped the squad outrebound Osaka 54-39.
Evessa All-Star Lynn Washington, the face of the franchise and a member of its three title-winning teams, had a 21-point, nine-rebound performance. David Palmer added 11 points and Ryan Blackwell scored nine. The rest of the team had a combined 15 points.
"I don't know where to start. We were outrebounded by 15, we had 20 turnovers," Washington said, lamenting the team's play and the single-game championship format. "It sucks that it's only one game.
"If we had won, it would've been a team effort, but we didn't, so even though we lost it's still a team effort."
Blackwell also spoke about the loss, saying: "They were the better team today. If we play them another day and make adjustments, I know we'll beat them."
Point guard Nile Murry, whose 15-point, nine-assist, six-assist two-steal effort, helped fuel Osaka's win over the Ryukyu Golden Kings in Saturday's Western Conference final, was a non-factor in the title game. He had three points on 1-for-6 shooting, four assists and five turnovers before fouling out.
Defensively, Hamamatsu disrupted the Evessa's offensive timing and never let its foe get on a roll to take over the game.
Missing 35 of 54 shots from the field didn't help Osaka's cause, either. The Evessa were given chance after chance to trim the lead — they trailed since early in the second quarter — but free-throw shooting ineptitude (14-for-26) was problem No. 1. Osaka finished its season with a 37-19 record.
"Our game plan was to go inside and also make some 3-point shots, but simply we couldn't make the shots," Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said. "Everybody had cold-shooting games and there was nothing we could do about it."
Despite the loss, Tennichi believes the game will be a valuable experience for the team's younger players.
Hamamatsu took a 36-27 advantage into the third quarter.
After knocking down seven 3-pointers in the opening half of Saturday's Eastern Conference final, Oguchi, a reserve guard, was not a primary scorer for the Phoenix in the championship game. He shot 0-for-4 from the field and put two points on the board in the opening half.
The Evessa led 18-16 early in the second quarter before the Phoenix went on a 10-0 run.
Moments later, White, who executed a backdoor cut, caught a high lob from Oguchi and converted and easy deuce in the lane. That made it 28-20, Hamamatsu. The Eastern Conference champions' lead increased to 31-20 on White's 3-pointer with 3:43 to play in the half.
Palmer spearheaded Osaka's comeback to close out the half with aggressive moves and scoring, including a tough off-balance hoop.
Hamamatsu outscored Osaka 22-11 in the second quarter, getting nine points from regular-season MVP White. He led all players with 11 first-half points.
Washington's 10 points led the Evessa in the first half.
In the third-place game, Ryukyu beat the Niigata Albirex BB 82-75.
Jeff Newton, who entered the postseason as the only player in league history to play on four championship teams, had 23 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks for Ryukyu (36-20).
Tsubasa Yonamine scored 14 points, including 8-for-10 at the free-throw line. Ryukyu teammates Anthony McHenry and George Leach added 13 and 11 points, respectively.
In the Western final on Saturday, Ryukyu was 5-for-33 on 3-point shots. A day later, the Golden Kings made a concerted effort to attack the basket more frequently, and they only took 14 3s in their final game of the season.
The Albirex (28-28) shot 5-for-25 from 3-point range in the loss.
Paul Butorac was Niigata's leading scorer with 19 points.