Japan will aim to carry its momentum into the men’s wheelchair basketball quarterfinals and beyond at the Tokyo Paralympics following a 67-55 victory over Turkey on Monday in its final group-stage game.
After trailing early, Japan made up the deficit in the second quarter before eventually pulling away from Turkey late at Tokyo’s Ariake Arena.
Japan (red) beats Turkey in a men’s basketball preliminary-round match at the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 30, 2021, at Ariake Arena in Tokyo. (Kyodo)
Japan’s top scorer, 33-year-old forward Hiroaki Kozai, said the team bounced back from its only group-stage defeat, a 79-61 loss to Spain, thanks to improved defense.
“It was a good game led by our stingy defense. We were able to make an adjustment from the game against Spain, during which we couldn’t defend against them well,” said Kozai, who scored 22 points.
“We were also able to fix some early flaws, such as not getting back in time.”
Heading into the game, both Turkey, which finished fourth at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, and Japan, which placed ninth, had secured berths in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Japan is aiming for its first men’s wheelchair basketball medal following wins in the preliminary round against Colombia, South Korea and Canada, as well as the loss to Spain.
According to Japan coach Kazuyuki Kyoya, his team made a significant improvement in the past year because of the emergence of young players.
“Their growth induced the improvement of older players, including veteran (Reo) Fujimoto and Kozai, which ended up boosting the level of the entire team,” the coach said.
The 37-year-old Fujimoto scored 19 points in the win, the second highest after Kozai.
“It’s encouraging to see good young players emerging. It’s good for the entire Japan. But as an athlete, I also feel I can still compete with them at a high level,” Kozai said.
In the meantime, Kyoya said this team still has room for improvement, especially on the defensive side, ahead of the knockout stage.
The defense-oriented philosophy seems to be widely shared throughout the team, with both Kozai and guard Renshi Chokai, 22, saying their fast transition game, enabled by tight defense, would be crucial in the quarterfinals and beyond.
“We would like to play those (knockout games) based on our fundamental system — develop a flow of the game through tight defense and attack the basket in transition,” said Chokai, who had eight assists and 14 rebounds Monday to lead the team in both categories.
The coach added, “In order to advance further at the world stage, Japan must find ways to defend bigger opponents in a half court setting.”
“We would like to enter into finals by improving that part,” he said.
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