Sunday, April 18, 2010

Saitama Broncos 79 at Tokyo Apache 74 - April 17, 2010

One of the concerns with the bj League is that the teams don't play all of their games in the same gym. This is nothing unusual here; Japanese baseball will see several neutral-site games during the season, but I'm not sure it's a good idea for a fledgling league to follow the same model. But I was happy to see that the Tokyo Apache had a weekend set with the Saitama Broncos at the new Sumida City Gymnasium.

The Gym

Located just one train stop away from me in Kinshi Park near Kinshicho station, the gym opened on April 1st. It's not just a gym for spectator sports, rather it is a place for residents to swim, work out, take yoga classes, and many other activities. All of the wards in Tokyo have a similar facility, but I doubt any is as nice as this one.

The arena in which the basketball game was played was up on the 3rd floor, with a narrow staircase to take you there. The reserved seats were on this floor with the free seating section another story up. There's about 7 rows of free seating that run the length of the court, so I'd guess about 1,400 seats. With a crowd of 1,445, there weren't many seats available when we arrived, so we ended up sitting behind the Broncos bench, which is of course home to their cheering section, the Broncos Green Boosters.

In the picture below, the reserved seats are the ones near the bottom, while the free seating is along the top.

The Standings

The bj League is nearing the end of the regular season and Saitama were 6th in the East with an abysmal 13-32 record and a league-long 11-game losing streak. Tokyo was slightly better at 19-26 and holding the last playoff spot, 3.5 games up on the Toyama Grouses. The teams had played the night before with the Apache routing the Broncos 96-84 to move closer to clinching a playoff spot.

The Game

Reina Itakura drains a 3 early on
On the stats sheet handed out before the game, I noticed that Saitama averaged 16 turnovers per game. That is somewhere around 20% of their possessions which explains why they are the worst team in the league. Sure enough, they turned the ball over on their first two possessions and Tokyo built a quick 6-0 lead. But that was to be their biggest lead of the game, as the Broncos settled down and started making some shots. Meanwhile, Tokyo started missing many of their shots and the first quarter ended with Saitama up 20-15. The second quarter was fairly even with each team scoring 23, but the Apache could not make up the 5 point deficit as their shot selection and rebounding continued to fail them.

Julius Ashby studied by the Apache's #1 fan

The third quarter saw the Broncos take a 13-point lead but the Apache finished on a 13-3 run to start the final stanza only down 3 points. Early in the quarter, the Broncos had the play of the game. Off another Apache miss, the Broncos had a fastbreak and the lead man drop passed to Kirby Lemons following. It looked as if Lemons would lay it in but he also dropped pass to ex-Syracuse Orangeman Terrence Roberts who sailed in for the statement slam. A fantastic 1-2-3 play that had the Bronco Boosters rocking.

To their credit, Tokyo didn't fold and managed to get within a point with 3 minutes left. But Jerrell Smith missed a couple of easy shots and Saitama added a deuce from Taishiro Shimizu (that's him driving below) for a 73-70 lead with less than two minutes to go.

Julius Ashby then missed a shot for Tokyo. I thought he had been fouled, as did he. Rather than run back on defense, he stood with hands on hips to express his displeasure at the referee. Saitama took advantage with a fastbreak that ended in another monster slam for Roberts. The Broncos Boosters erupted in an orgy of cheering as they realized that victory was within reach. The Apache did manage a late three pointer, but it was not enough as Saitama sunk a couple of last-second free throws for the 79-74 win to end their long losing skid.

Cohey Aoki misses a 3 - he went pointless for the second straight game

Overall this was not a pretty game with lots of missed shots, particularly for Tokyo. The Apache shot 41% overall and missed several easy looks, including a dunk by Ashby, who finished 12/25 from the field. Saitama shot a more respectable 48% but turned the ball over 15 times, which allowed Tokyo to remain close. Ashby led all scorers with 26 points while Shimizu led the Broncos with 17, including 3 of 5 from downtown.


The officiating was not that good, at least judging by the players' reactions throughout the game. On several occasions, a foul call was greeted by a disbelieving look from the offender but I thought it was the missed calls that were more noticeable. Still, the way both teams played, neither can complain that the refs weren't perfect.

Saitama had a Canadian on their roster. Kwbama Beckles from Hamilton, pictured below blocking out on a free throw, joined the Broncos for this year after 3 years in Europe. Unfortunately he only managed 6 minutes in the game, committed 3 turnovers, 2 fouls, and missed his only shot attempt.

The Playoffs

The league ends on May 9th with the conference semi-finals featuring the top 4 teams in each division on May 15th and 16th. The top 2 teams will host single elimination games. The four winners then travel to Tokyo the following weekend for the Final Four, to be held at Ariake Coliseum. I don't expect to be in town for that, but should my plans change, I'll definitely try to make it out. If you are living in Tokyo and are a basketball fan, you should pencil it into your calendar.

Next Up

The weather here has been unseasonably cold and wet (it even snowed on Friday evening) so no baseball or soccer since I've been back. I've turned into a terrible weather wimp but things are looking up so I hope to catch a couple of games next week.

I'm still planning to visit Arizona and Las Vegas in mid-May but there's some other circumstances that are preventing me from making my booking just yet. Once the trip is booked (or cancelled) I'll let everyone know here.



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