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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Phoenix outlast B-Corsairs to reach bj-league title game

Staff writer

Championship experience and crunch-time poise carried the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to an 87-78 victory over the expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs in the bj-league's Eastern Conference final on Saturday at Ariake Colosseum.

News photo
Phoenix from the flames: Hamamatsu's Shingo Okada (11) shoots as Yokohama's Justin Burrell (24) tries to block during the Phoenix's 87-78 win in the bj-league Eastern Conference final on Saturday. KYODO

Two-time defending champion Hamamatsu, under first-year coach Ryuji Kawai, faces the winner of the Western Conference final (Ryukyu Golden Kings vs. Kyoto Hannaryz) in Sunday's championship game. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:10 p.m., preceded by the third-place game.

In the fourth quarter, the Phoenix took control of the game and wrested momentum away from the B-Corsairs, outscoring them 31-16 in the final frame.

Hamamatsu big man Gyno Pomare, who had scored the team's first six points of the game, made huge contributions in the fourth quarter: nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, two steals and one blocked shot. He finished with a game-high 20 points, working effectively with Best Five point guard Jermaine Dixon, former NBA guard Juan Dixon's younger brother.

"He (Pomare) came out and made plays. . . . Those two came out in the second half big and executed well in the pick-and-roll," Yokohama power forward Justin Burrell said of the dynamic duo.

Dixon left his imprint all over the box score, finishing with 19 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and two steals before fouling out late in the contest.

"I think we got away from moving the ball in the second half," said Burrell, the 2011-12 regular-season MVP, who had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists before fouling out.

The B-Corsairs buckled under pressure, making seven turnovers in the fourth quarter.

With just over 2:30 left to play, Hamamatsu regained the lead — 77-75 — for the first time since the first quarter on a Pomare layup, getting the feed from Dixon. Burrell tied it up on an inside bucket on the other end. Phoenix forward Lawrence Blackledge made one free throw, and it was 78-77 in favor of Phoenix. Pomare nearly replicated his frontcourt mate's act seconds later by hitting the second of two free throws, and the Phoenix used a game-closing 10-1 spurt to defeat Yokohama. Hamamatsu made 9 of 13 free throws in the quarter to seal the win.

Moments earlier, Kawai's message to his players to hustle and play scrappy defense had paid off. The coach noted that sharing the ball and spacing the floor on offense were not up to standards for the first half when the team shot 10-for-32 from the field. (Picking up 62 second-half points was ample evidence that they responded to his halftime challenge.)

"Defensively, we were solid for the most part," B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary said. "We just gave them too many opportunities (in the second half). We gave away too many easy baskets late in the game.

"To his credit, Gyno Pomare did a nice job of being an offensive weapon," the coach added.

Yokohama, which closed out the regular season with 22 wins in its final 30 games and outlasted the Akita Northern Happinets in the conference semifinals, led 38-25 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Hamamatsu had cut the lead to 40-30 on 2010-11 regular-season and playoff MVP Jeffrey Parmer's layup. Yokohama answered with a 9-4 spurt to take a 49-34 advantage.

But the Phoenix came back strong, rallying to within 60-54 on a pair of Pomare free throws. Marcus Simmons then halted the reigning champions' surge with a much-needed Yokohama basket, but Pomare was back at the line with 0.7 seconds remaining in the quarter. That made it 62-56.

Dixon had 10 points in the third quarter, spearheading the Phoenix comeback efforts.

At the same time, Yokohama struggled to break Hamamatsu's press, and when it did the points were hard to come by.

Geary said his team showed "hesitation under pressure, and when we did break it, we didn't (capitalize)."

For the B-Corsairs, reaching the Final Four was no small feat as a brand new club.

"I couldn't be prouder of the guys," Geary said, reflecting on the season and noting that the expansion squad "started from scratch" en route to becoming a championship contender.

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