The second semi-final of the men’s competition at Tokyo 2020 saw the hosts Japan enter their first-ever Paralympic Games semi-final against World Champions Great Britain.
Great Britain came out the more confident in the opening quarter and it was their one pointer, Abdi Jama, who was hot, draining the outside shots to give GB the early lead. Japan may have felt a little overwhelmed by occasion with the eyes of their home country on them as they struggled to find a scoring threat, GB took advantage and pushed out to an early 8 point lead at the end of the first period.
At the start of the second quarter, Japan changed tactics and returned back to their trusted pressing lineup. Their speed and press put GB under pressure and not giving them the easy look at the baskets, allowing Japan to bring it back to within 3 at halftime. 33-36.
Momentum stayed with Japan and the home team came out on fire after the break to take the lead for the first time. The Japanese kept the defensive pressure, forcing GB into a number of turnovers, which they capitalised on. Japan was now being very efficient and scored too many easy fast-break points (from GB’s perspective). The game was now at balance as both teams chased up and down the court for a very dynamic game. Score at the end of the third: 52-48.
A high scoring fourth quarter ensued and the first minutes of the last quarter appeared to be a showdown between Hiroaki Kozai (10 points in Q4) and Gaz Choudhry (8 points in Q4). But it was Japan who stayed calm and focused putting on some beautiful transition basketball. It seemed as if Japan found an answer to all of GB‘s efforts – keeping the lead at around 6 points for the majority of the fourth quarter. If GB wanted to have a shot at the final, they would have to risk it all now. Again, Japan resisted the pressure and stayed calm, allowing them to seal a historic victory 79-68.
Chokai led Japan’s scorers with 20 points and Kozai’s impact off the bench was impressive, shooting at 78% from the field including 3/3 the three-pointers (17 points total).
Japan’s Ryuga Akaishi said after the game:
“I really feel honoured to be part of this historic team that made it to the Paralympic Games final for the first time in our history.
“Our goal going to the next game is not to win silver, but to win gold. That’s my motivation going into Sunday’s game.”
The Bronze and Gold games will take place Saturday 4 September:
10:00 – ESP v GBR
12:30 – USA v JPN
For a full wheelchair basketball schedule and results click here.
Photo: Shingo Ito X-1/ Quote OIS