Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Osaka Evessa 75 at Ryukyu Golden Kings 70 - March 25, 2012

After a relaxing week on the north coast of Okinawa, I returned to Naha for my flight back to Tokyo. The flight wasn't until the evening, so I had to find something to do in the city during the day. Fortunately, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, the bj League's best team, were at home in Naha that day so I was able to drive over and watch them taking on the Osaka Evessa, who are the number 2 squad in the nation.

Naha City Gymnasium

The venue was the Naha City Gymnasium which has little available parking, so rather than navigate the back streets, I parked at a nearby shopping mall and took a free shuttle bus to the game. I arrived about 10 minutes before tip off and picked up the cheapest ticket, a 2,000 yen unreserved seat in the second level. I thought it would be no problem to find a seat but when I entered the seating area, the lights went out as it was time for introductions. By the time the lights were switched on, I realized that this was not a typical bj League game with few fans and lots of seats; instead over 3,000 were on hand for this battle and there were few open spots. I managed to find a good seat after the first quarter had ended, but will definitely try to get there earlier next time.

There's not much to this place as it is normally just a municipal gym, not a real pro sports venue. Like all bj League teams, the Golden Kings play in a number of different locations over the season, so there is no permanent infrastructure set up. There are a few temporary food stands and a team store, but little else. My culinary recommendation here would be the taco rice donburi for 500 yen, simply because it was the only item that was sold out and it looked pretty appealing.

It was nice to see a bit of history commemorated with some banners commemorating the Kings' success over the years, including a championship 3 seasons ago.

The Game

This was the second of two consecutive games, as nearly all bj League affairs are weekend doubleheaders to save on travel costs. Osaka was suffering from the loss of Lynn Washington, who had been arrested a couple of weeks before on drug importation charges, and they were crushed by Ryukyu 97-75 the night before.

Despite this being the second game of a back-to-back, it was very fast paced to start, with the first quarter taking just 15 minutes of real time to play (bj League quarters are 10 minutes long). The referees were great, letting the action unfold without calling any silly fouls, and the players responded with some great physical play. Both teams were solid defensively and the first quarter ended 16-13 in favour of the home team, dressed in gold.

Cohey Aoki, a former member of the Apache, takes a shot for Osaka.

The second stanza saw the Kings increase their lead to 10 but Evessa ended the half on a 14-4 run to tie the game at 37 at the break. Below is Osaka's Masashi Obushi slicing through the Kings' defense for a lay up.

The third quarter belonged to Ryukyu, who dominated the offensive glass but were hurt by poor shooting, particularly from the charity stripe, and could only take a 62-55 lead into the final frame.

When Osaka scored the first 7 points of the fourth, the game was again tied and momentum was on the side of the visitors. Defense took over and for about 5 minutes, neither team was able to score two consecutive baskets.

With Osaka up 69-68 and less than 3 minutes to go, Bobby St. Preux sank a three-pointer to increase the lead to four. Osaka then clamped down on the Kings, allowing only two free throws but no other baskets. Ryukyu didn't foul down the stretch for some reason, allowing Osaka to escape with a 75-70 road win to split the weekend set. Interestingly, they scored 75 points both times, but their defense was excellent in this game and the major factor in their victory.

Osaka's Mike Bell (below) led all scorers with 17 points while adding 13 rebounds. This was a gritty defensive contest with the Kings' inability to score from beyond the arc hurting them (they went just 3 for 16) as much as the Evessa's pressing defense. These two teams might meet again in the Western Conference final, part of the "Final Four" to be held in Tokyo on May 19th and 20th. Unfortunately, I'll have left Japan by then, but if you are around and like basketball, check it out.


I've mentioned this before, but Okinawa has the strongest community feeling among all areas of Japan and this is demonstrated both in the team and its fans. The Golden Kings count 6 Okinawan natives on their roster, and the fans appreciate the local talent, coming out in droves and cheering loudly, helped along by a constant drumbeat on offense and an MC chanting "defense". It is great that this team can draw 3,000 fans from a relatively small population; compare that to the now-defunct Tokyo Apache, who could barely muster 1,000 or so fans from the largest metro area in the world.

Next Up

Tomorrow sees the Mariners and Athletics open the MLB season at the Tokyo Dome and I'll be there to check it out, but will avoid posting an update. Next week I'm off to Sapporo for two games, so check back then for some recaps.



1 comment:

  1. I liked Aoki in the Apache games; glad he is still able to play