Korea’s top players on opposing teams as finals begin today

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Korea’s top players on opposing teams as finals begin today

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It’s unusual in any sports league for the top two teams during the regular season to meet each other in the championship series, because there are bound to be upsets in the playoffs. But the finals of the Korean Basketball League, which start today, feature exactly that.
The Mobis Phoebus, regular season champs, beat the experienced KCC Egis in four games during the best-of-five series in the semifinals. The Phoebus took only two out of six regular-season games against the Egis, which had played in a record five KBL finals in the league’s 10-year existence, and made the top four in the playoffs in seven of those seasons. Point guard Yang Dong-geun, the co-most valuable player of the regular season, lifted the Phoebus.
The Samsung Thunders, who finished four games behind the Phoebus during the regular season, swept the Daegu Orions, who had defeated the defending champs Dongbu Promy in the first round. The other co-MVP, center Seo Jang-hoon, capped off an excellent series with a clinching three-point shot with just over a minute left in the third and final game, giving the Thunders a five-point cushion.
The JoongAng Daily takes a look at some of the other subplots in the championship series.

Foreign players’ bragging rights
Each of the two finalists boasts a top-notch foreign player from the United States: Chris Williams for the Phoebus and Nate Johnson for the Thunders.
They finished fourth and fifth in regular season scoring, but Williams recorded six triple-doubles and was the league’s only player to rank in the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists. He also won the top foreign player award. And Williams, who is a smooth 6-foot-3 and can play every position, has averaged 29 points, eight boards and seven assists in the playoffs.
But Johnson, the 6-foot-4 power forward, is on a hot streak of his own, averaging 33 points in the semifinals. He scored a game-high 43 in the series opener, and then set the record for most points in a quarter in a KBL game, regular season or playoffs, by dropping 25 points in the second quarter on the Orions.
Williams and Johnson will likely guard each other, and the defensive matchup will be just as interesting as their scoring battle because Williams might be too quick for Johnson to stop on the perimeter, while Johnson may be too strong for Williams in the post.

The battle of co-MVPs
For the first time in league history, two players won the most valuable player award. Yang took home the trophy one year after he captured rookie-of-the year honors, and Seo won the MVP for the second time.
Yang and Seo were also both named the MVPs of the playoff semifinals. Yang, who averaged 12.5 points and 4.8 assists per game during the season, stepped up his offense against the Egis, scoring 15.8 points while dishing out 6.8 assists per game. Yang, who was named to last year’s all-defensive team, effectively shut down Egis point guard Lee Sang-min, who was held to 37 points in four games and did not demonstrate his usual playmaking skills.
The Thunders have two foreign post players in forward Johnson and Nigerian center Olumide Oyedeji alongside Seo. Other coaches have said the Thunders essentially have three foreign players, one over the league’s team limit, because of Seo’s impact in the low post and his improved outside touch.
Seo, 6-foot-10, was the top Korean scorer during the season, averaging 19.7 points per game. He averaged exactly the same during the semifinal series.
And he has been strong against the Phoebus, the team that allowed the fewest points in the league. Seo averaged 16.8 points and 6.8 boards in six games.
Yang and Seo are each the top Korean players on their respective teams. Since the rules only allow one foreign player on the court at a time during the second quarter, the contribution of the homegrown players is more significant in a short series.

Injuries
The clinching victory last week for the Thunders came at a cost, as starting point guard Lee Jung-suk injured his right ankle midway through the final frame. He remains doubtful for today’s championship opener.
Lee has never been a prolific scorer or a flashy passer, but his tight defense on the Orions counterpart Kim Seung-hyun, widely regarded the nation’s best point guard, was a major reason for the Thunders sweep.
Lee’s possible absence will be felt severely because he would be the one guarding the red-hot Yang, who can mix a penetrating attack with outside jumpers.
The onus falls on backup point guard Lee Se-bum and Kang Hyuk, who can play both of the guard positions. But Kang is still recovering from injuries of his own after hurting his knee in a collision with teammate Johnson in the late season, and Lee, a career backup, has never been under this kind of spotlight. With Jung-suk out, Yang, his chief rival from their playing days at Yonsei and Hanyang universities, respectively, will likely be asked to pick up more scoring slack.

And the winner is...
Ultimately, the Thunders will have difficulty containing Yang at the point, and Williams will continue to wreak havoc against a slow-footed defense. The trio of Seo, Johnson and center Olumide Oyedeji is imposing, but they will need all the perimeter help they can get to keep up with versatile attack of the Phoebus.
* Prediction: Phoebus in six games.


by Yoo Jee-ho
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