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Monday, March 19, 2012

Phoenix flex muscles to hold off late Jets charge

Staff writer

ICHIKAWA, Chiba Pref. — The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix don't have the fiery, demanding Kazuo Nakamura barking instructions from the bench anymore, but the two-time defending champions still feature a gifted ensemble of basketball players capable of winning another championship in May.

With the Chiba Jets applying pressure late in the fourth quarter, the Phoenix raised the intensity level and made big plays, including reigning regular-season and playoff MVP Jeffrey Parmer's two free throws to make it a 12-point game — a little breathing room for the out-of-towners — with 2:21 remaining.

Seconds earlier, Parmer swished a baseline 3-pointer and Lawrence Blackledge followed with a layup following a Chiba turnover, giving the Phoenix the unmistakable momentum down the stretch.

Parmer scored 23 points and Jermaine Dixon had 19 for Hamamatsu in a 100-86 victory on Sunday in the bj-league series finale as first-year Hamamatsu coach Ryuji Kawai's club improved to 29-13.

"They're the defending champions, and they're on top of the East for a reason," Chiba coach Eric Gardow said after the game.

He added: "We played really well for yesterday and today, played really well for 70 of 80 minutes. (Again), we couldn't finish in the fourth."

After a bye week, Hamamatsu, the best in the Eastern Conference, faces the second-place Akita Northern Happinets, Nakamura's new team, for a headline-grabbing pupil vs. mentor showdown March 31 and April 1 in Hamamatsu. The Jets (14-26), meanwhile, travel to face the host Yokohama B-Corasirs next weekend.

The Phoenix were 14-for 16 at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

The Jets shot 4-for-27 on 3s in their series-opening loss Saturday at Ichikawa Shiohama Sports Gymnasium. In the rematch, Chiba shot 1-for-14.

Maurice Hargrow paced the Jets with 30 points, Jamel Staten scored 19, Takaki Ishida had 12 and Hiroki Sato added 11.

Poise, patience and a well-designed zone defense kept the Jets off balance at critical stages of the game.

In addition, Kawai said his team's commitment to attacking the basket paid off.

"If we were able to attack, we attacked, and that led to a lot of free throws," Kawai told reporters.

Veteran forward Shoji Nakanishi earned the start for Hamamatsu and responded with 15 points and five rebounds, and Masahiro Ogchui and Blackledge both had nine apiece. The Phoenix raked in 23 offensive rebounds to Chiba's 15.

Ishida and Hargrow converted back-to-back layups as Chiba took a 50-44 lead with just under 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

After Ishida's catch-and-shoot jumper made it 55-50, Parmer sank a 3 from the right wing to pull the Phoenix within 55-53 near the midway point of the third.

Oguchi tied it at 55-55 on a long jumper, and lead guard Dixon buried a jumper and drove through traffic for a hard-earned layup on consecutive possessions as the Phoenix pulled ahead 59-57. Moments later, Oguchi's slick behind-the-back pass set up Blackledge for a thunder jam as Chiba called a timeout, trailing 61-59, and wanting to regroup at the 3:16 mark.

With about 90 seconds to go in the third, Dixon canned a 3, but Antoine Broxsie's stuff at the other end cut the Phoenix lead to 67-65.

A Broxsie block on starting center Atsuya Ota's layup attempt led to Staten's layup, and he was back at the line with 2.7 ticks to go in the quarter and sank two shots as Chiba took a 69-68 lead into the final period.

Hamamatsu led 75-71 with about 7:40 left in the game after Blackledge crashed through the lane for a putback.

Ota, the bj-league's first Japan national team center, scored inside to tie the first-quarter score at 10-10 seconds after Staten's pull-up 3 at the other end for the Jets.

Ota created mismatches and problems for the Jets as Broxsie and others were affected by foul trouble, Gardow said.

Chiba took a 14-10 lead on Hargrow's inside bucket, and Wayne Arnold sliced the lead to two on a pair of free throws.

Players from both teams were actively criticizing game officials in the early going, pleading for them to call fouls on the opposition, and Broxsie picked up a technical at the 6:54 mark of the opening stanza.

But there were good play sets and active movement at both ends of the court as fans were treated to an entertaining, free-wheeling brand of ball.

The Phoenix trailed 22-19 after the first quarter. They tied it at 24-24 on Kenya Tomori's 3-pointer with about 9 minutes left in the half. Kensuke Tanaka answered with a 3 of his own.

With its offense in a funk, Gardow called a timeout with 6:28 left before the break. His team had a 24-second shot-clock violation on its next possession. But after big man Gaston Moliva stole the ball from Ota, Hargrow buried a fadeaway jumper to make it 30-26, Chiba.

Sato's layup-and-one gave the Jets a 32-27 advantage.

Nakanishi grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a layup and free throw as the Jets lead slipped to 33-32. Nakanishi, a former Tokyo Aache and Shimane Susanoo Magic player, made a jumper seconds later to pull Hamamatsu within 35-34. The Phoenix stayed aggressive, and the persistence paid off. Ota flushed two foul shots and crafty veteran Oguchi's nifty layup gave the two-time defending champions a 38-36 lead before Parmer drained a spot-up 3 for a 41-36 advantage.

Chiba clawed back to within 41-40 to close out the half, but missed three chances to take the lead on its final possession: an Ishida layup attempt and a pair of tip-ins by Moliva.

Hargrow had 19 first-half points on 7-for-10 shooting, while the Jets were 14-for-26 from inside the arc and limiting their 3-point shots to four attempts (one make) in the opening half.

For Hamamatsu, Nakanishi had 10 points at the half. The visitors were 3-for-14 on 3s but 11-for-22 from 2-point range.

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