With a perhaps unexpected veteran star supplying a blast from the past, the latest edition of an historic rivalry saw CSKA top Zalgiris 90-81 in Moscow on Thursday. The Russian champs now hold at least a share of first place in Group B at the season's halfway mark. With the game tied 64-64 after 30 minutes, big man Dragan Tarlac climbed off the bench and scored 7 points in 2 minutes to start the fourth quarter, sparking a 13-0 run that put CSKA in front for good. J.R. Holden made 5 of 5 triples as he and Marcus Brown scored 21 points each for the winners. Victor Alexander scored all 16 of his points in the first half. Arvydas Sabonis didn't start due to sickness, and was resting during CSKA's decisive run, but finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds to lead Zalgiris. Ed Cota added 14 points, Tanoka Beard and Giedrius Gustas 11 each for Zalgiris, whose Group B record fell to 4-3, for a share of third place. CSKA, which played without rebound ace Mirsad Turkcan, who was ill, was at least tied for first place at 6-1 while awaiting later results on Thursday.
Both inside and outside CSKA's arena, fans were abuzz with the arrival of Sabonis, but neither he nor Turkcan, two of the Euroleague's top three rebounders, took the floor to start the game. Alexander opened the scoring with a jump shot, and then Tanoka Beard drew a foul and hit free throws to tie for Zalgiris. Those were good signs for both teams. Mindaugas Timinskas scored for a short 2-4 Zalgiris lead, but when Alexander made his next 2 shots, inside and outside the arc, CSKA had established a 10-4 lead. The sub of Sabonis, Paulius Jankunas, scored 4 points in a row to keep Zalgiris close at 12-11, but CSKA jumper ahead to 17-11 as free throws by Brown made him the third Euroleague player to top 1,000 points (after Alphonso Ford and Gregor Fucka). But whenever CSKA tried to escape, some Zalgiris player responded, this time Miroslav Beric with a triple. It was the first of 4 shots in a row from the arc, by Alexander and J.R. Holden for CKSA, and in between them, Timinskas. Sabonis was now on the floor, taking care of rebounds at first, while Beric and Timinskis chased CSKA on the scoreboard. A third triple by Holden gave CSKA its biggest edge, 28-21, which Sabonis trimmed by a point at the free throw line for a 28-22 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
Sabonis sat to start the second quarter, but Beard picked up the slack with a layup, a dunk and a free throw to bring Zalgiris within 30-27. Soon, Brown would hit a three-pointer to expand the lead again, to 37-29 after 16 minutes. Sabonis came back and helped Zalgiris stem the tide with 4 points in the 18th minute, and then Giedrius Gustas stepped up with a huge triple for the guests, making it 38-36. Alexander checked in with a final basket before the half, but Gustas had the last word with a layup that left the scoreboard reading 41-38 when the teams headed for their locker rooms.
Holden would give CSKA back a comfortable lead, 47-40, with a triple early in the second half. He and Sergei Panov scored to stretch the advantage to 9 points, 52-43, before Zalgiris started to make things uncomfortable for the hosts. Sabonis and Ed Cota both drilled triples to drop the deficit to 5 points, 54-49, after 25 minutes. But Brown would have none of that and scored 5 himself within a minute for a double-digit CSKA lead of 59-49. Zalgiris would not be deterred, however. Cota and Arturas Javtokas drove for baskets before Sabonis landed his second triple and a layup. When Javtokas went to the hole for another basket, Zalgiris had a 0-11 run and a 59-60 lead, its first since the game's opening minutes. CSKA fired back, with Holden making yet another triple, but when Dainius Salenga hit a jumper to close the third quarter, the teams were tied 64-64.
A battle was raging and fresh big bodies would help, CSKA found one to start the fourth quarter, while Zalgiris tried to rest Sabonis. Tarlac jumped off the bench and changed the momentum in a matter of 2 minutes, in which time he made a jump shot, 2 free throws and a three-point play underneath. His outburst plus baskets by Panov and Brown suddenly had CSKA ahead 75-64 and in control again before Sabonis could rejoin the action. CSKA's run would hit 13-0 and the lead 77-64 on a layup by Sergei Monya before Zalgiris got its first basket of the quarter, by Beard, after 4 minutes. Tarlac added another shot and Holden another triple for CSKA, and it would take two triples by Gustas before Zalgiris saw the underside of 10 points again, at 84-75 in the 38th minute. Except for a dunk by Victor Khryapa, the rest of the scoring took place at the foul line, which meant it didn't come fast enough for Zalgiris to remount a challenge. Not even with Sabonis still in there, not against this CSKA on this floor on this particular night.
Thursday, December 18, 2003