HIROSHIMA (FIBA World Championship) Dirk Nowitzki scored 27 points as Germany struggled but survived a dog-fight with Japan to open the FIBA World Championship with a 81-70 victory over the tournament hosts.
Nowitzki scored 20 of his points in the first quarter as the 2002 bronze medalists were never able to put away the motivated Japanese, who were led by 13 points by Kei Igarashi.
"We made some mistakes in the defense. But it really wasn't ever that close," said Nowitzki, who also 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
"We had control of the whole game even though it was a little tighter than we imagined.
Japan used the three-point shot to stay in the game early as Takehiko Orimo's trey had the hosts to within 11-10. Germany led 13-12 before Nowitzki's three-pointer started a 17-5 run. The 7-footer was dominating in the first quarter, scoring 15 points as Germany led 34-20 after one period.
Two straight baskets by Ademola Okulaja opened the cushion to 38-20. Germany were ahead 46-32 with 55 seconds left in the half when Nowitzki went down hard and got up limping. He later was holding his left hand when he went to the bench.
"I feel fine. Nothing happened," Nowitzki said.
Japan were able to close to within 10 points - 47-37 - on two Kei Igarashi free throws. But Sven Schultze's three-pointer at the buzzer pushed the lead to 50-37 going into the locker room.
Steffen Hamann's layup gave Germany their biggest lead of the game 61-42. But Dirk Bauermann's team went the final 5:27 of the third quarter without a basket as Japan fought their way back into the match. Kosuke Takeuchi's driving dunk down the lane with 34 seconds made it just an eight-point game at 64-56.
"I thought at that point we could maybe take it," Igarashi admitted.
Germany were up 66-56 after three periods.
Four straight points off the bench by Guido Gruenheid put the Germans back in control. Demond Greene's three-pointer with 6:35 made it 75-60 and Zeljko Pavlicevic's team would not get closer to 11 points the rest of the way.
Japanese coach Zeljko Pavlicevic was thrilled with the result.
"Japan succeeded in this game too. We won the second and third quarters. When a player like Nowitzki makes his first six shots, it's hard to get into the game," he said.
"I was surprised with the good result. This performance was very good, maybe one of the best games in Japanese history. It's very important to start like this."
German coach Dirk Bauermann was pleased with the start of the tournament.
"I thought we came out focused which was important because we wanted to get off to a good start. We wanted to dictate the tempo and get an early lead and control the game from there on out," the coach said
"We only did a decent job controlling the game from there. You're just happy you get that first win because you never know where you are before a tournament like this starts."
Germany play against New Zealand tomorrow while Japan take on Angola.
By DAVID HEIN
Exclusively for FIBA