| With its second consecutive victory at home, Asvel Basket downed visiting Zalgiris Kaunas 77-67 on Thursday in Villeurbanne, France in a pitched battle for all-important fourth place in Group A. Asvel is now 2-4 and Zalgiris 1-5, but Thursday's margin of victory wasn't enough to give the winners an advantage in potential tie-breakers. Zalgiris took their previous encounter, in the season's opening game, by 19 points, so if they are tied head-to-head at the end of the regular season, Zalgiris would advance. Asvel took over a close game in the middle of the third quarter and eventually built a 19-point lead, but Zalgiris pressured to lower it by finishing with a 2-11 run. Recent siging Rawle Marshall was the big gun for Asvel with 20 points. Laurent Foirest came off the bench to pop in 15 points, matching the scoring of Eric Campbell, while Ali Traore added 10 for the winners. For Zalgiris, which led early but never got the lead back once giving it up in the second quarter, Dainius Salenga stood out with 25 points, including 5-for-5 two-point shooting, while Travis Watson added 12 points.
Bobby Dixon got the scoring started for Asvel. Salenga blasted to the hoop to tie before Watson hit Mantas Kalnietis back-door for a 2-4 Zalgiris lead. Campbell answered from the corner, taking back the lead for Asvel, but Kalnietis took it right back with a triple from the top. Another nice feed, Salenga to Watson, kept Zalgiris rolling. Traore sky-hooked for the hosts, but again Watson got open for a layup to make it 7-11 Zalgiris. Cambpell posted up next, Kalnietis drove in response, but Marshall scored his first basket, pulling Asvel within 11-13. The scoring didn't even pause as Watson got the next basket inside and Marcus Brown swished a three-pointer to keep the guests strong at 11-18. After a timeout, Campbell hit free throws and Marshall finished a fastbreak at 15-18, but Salenga's 100th three-pointer in Euroleague play sustained Zalgiris. Marshall was hot, hitting a short jumper before stepping out to knock down a triple to make it 20-23. He was back, too, on the last possession, dropping a three-point fadeaway on the buzzer for a 23-24 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
Bangaly Fofona hit a game-tying free throw for Asvel to open the second quarter, so the hosts went back to him, drawing Mirza Begic's third foul. Fofona's next offensive rebound led to Laurent Foirest scoring on a drive and free throw for a 27-24 Asvel lead. Salenga finally answered for Zalgiris, going hard right, and after free throws by Marshall, hit a strike from the corner to tie 29-29. Foirest made a short jumper first, then dropped it from a little deeper, over the arc, to push Asvel up again, 34-30. Mindaugas Lukauskas added a steal and dunk to that, prompting a Zalgiris timeout at 37-32. Victor Samnick and Campbell, with a bank shot, kept Asvel a step ahead. Brown responded with a driving one-hander and free throws for Zalgiris, but Traore and Dixon matched those. When Traore scored in transition, Asvel was holding better than steady, at 45-39. Tadas Klimavicius used a tap-in to buouy the visitors, then Brown found Salenga for a rattled-in three-pointer that left a 49-44 halftime scoreboard.
Campbell, Traore and Dixon kept sparking Asvel with inside baskets after the break, but Klimavicius was good for a triple and Kalnietis for a layup to keep Zalgiris as close as 55-51. However, when Campbell scored inside and Marshall followed him at 59-51, the visitors needed a timeout to talk about it. It didn't help them avoid Lukauskis making another steal-and-dunk combo for the game's first double-digit lead, 61-51. Salenga reacted with an acrobatic basket-plus-free throw at 61-54. But Asvel got all those points back at the foul line before Foirest stepped up again with a high-rising triple from the wing to break the game open as Asvel cruised to a 69-56 advantage after 30 minutes.
The fourth quarter opened as the third ended, with Foriest dropping a deft, lefty shot, this one on the baseline, and when Campbell made good on 2 free throws, Asvel was looking for a blowout at 73-56. The other story was the hosts' defense, which had completely closed its early holes in the paint and was limiting Zalgiris to wild perimeter shots. By the time Traore went to the foul line and didn't miss, Asvel was flirting with a 20-point lead, 75-56. Salenga saw the implications for too big a margin, considering his team's 19-point win in the opening game, and sparked a 2-9 reaction by Zalgiris, cutting the difference to 77-65. Asvel's scoring had stalled, so Zalgiris concetrated on keeping the difference down as the last few minutes passed with few points, assuring the hosts the win, but the visitors a future tie-break advantage, if necessary.
Thursday, December 03, 2009