Zalgiris Kaunas remained unbeaten at home this season after holding off Montepaschi Siena for a key 75-69 win in Group A on Thursday. The Lithuanian champs improved to 6-4 in the standings, joining Montepaschi and Olympiacos in a three-way tie for third place in the group. Marko Popovic heated up in the fourth quarter and outdueled Terrell McIntyre to lift Zalgiris to the win. The game was close throughout and the Italian champs led early in the fourth quarter of a seesaw battle, but Popovic and co. came up with clutch baskets on demand down the stretch to preserve the win. Popovic led the way for the winners with 15 points, Paulius Jankunas added 13, Eurelijus Zukauskas posted 10 points and 8 rebounds, Goran Jurak scored 10, DeJuan Collins had 9 points and 6 assists and Marcus Brown had just 9 in his first game since being named Euroleague Basketball MVP for December. McIntyre paced Montepaschi with 19, Vlado Ilievski scored 11 and Ben Eze finished with 10 points and 11 boards.
Zukauskas won an opening tip, but it was Bootsy Thornton who opened the scoring with a mid-range jumper plus foul. Zalgiris looked inside for Zukauskas and he made a jumper, but injured his elbow a few seconds later and headed to the bench, forcing head coach Rimantas Grigas to put the injured Michael Bradley in the game early. However, he didn’t seem fast enough in defense and Siena took advantage with a Tomas Ress layup. Jankunas tried to wake up Zalgiris with bomb from behind the arc. Ress made only one of two free throws, while Jankunas added a jumper from the right corner after an assist by Collins. Romain Sato drilled a triple that put Siena ahead at 7- 9. Zalgiris strengthened its defense and answered with 5 points behind free throws by Collins and difficult basket by Bradley that forced Siena to call for timeout. Thornton stole the ball, but failed to convert it to points as Eze received an offensive foul. Zalgiris stayed tuned on the offensive end and Collins made an easy layup, to which Zukauskas added a jumper from the low post. Jonas Maciulis closed hosts 11-0 run with two free throws, but it was Thornton who closed the first quarter with shot that fixed hosts’ lead at 18-11.
Zukauskas started the second quarter with wild dunk on Ilievski, but he took his revenge after a few seconds with triple from right corner. Collins dished nice assist to Goran Jurak for layup while visitors tried to run it’s defense through Iljievski who nailed another triple. It was wake up call for hosts who set faster pace and answered with 6-0 run ignited by Zalgirs’ small men Popovic, Collins and Maciulis. Siena called for a time-out but it worked better for Zalgiris as Zukauskas’ two free throws extended Zalgiris lead to 30-17. Eze stepped up with layup but Collins matched him with fade away jumper. Hector Romero debuted in Euroleague with three point play after extra difficult lay-up plus foul. Eze executed another three point play and Iljevski remained sharp with bomb from the downtown before Zukauskas answered with jump hook in the paint. Terrell Mcintyre made two free throws and penetrated for a basket that cut visitors’ deficit to 36-32. Hosts continued to struggle against Siena’s defense until Zukauskas slammed the board with dunk that left hosts ahead 39-33 before second half.
Siena started second half aggressively as Sato scored a coast-to-coast layup, but Brown answered with his first basket of the game. Both teams exchanged a few missed shots before Jankunas scored on the fast break. Sato responded with triple, to which McIntyre added one more bomb that reduced the margin to 43-41. The run-and-gun game worked better for visitors, who forced Zalgiris to commit turnovers constantly as Shaun Stonerook demoralized Zalgiris with a wild dunk off a steal. Zalgiris moved the ball around until Maciulis found his way through the paint for a basket, but Mcintyre nailed a triple that seemed to cool off the crowd. However Popovic matched him on the very next possession and Jurak drove along the baseline to score a layup. Jurak then added another acrobatic shot to keep the hosts going at 52-51. Zalgiris’s defense seemed lazy and left too many open spots, which Stonerook took advantage of with a three-pointer. But Popovic made both free throws that gave a minor lead to the hosts before final quarter 55-54.
McIntyre remained hot from the three-point arc and his triple returned the lead to Siena, but Popovic stepped up for Zalgiris with difficult jumper and nice assist to Jankunas for an easy layup. Brown fired in a triple, but Mcintyre matched him on the very next possession. Popovic outplayed the whole Siena team and assisted Jankunas for layup plus foul. However, the roller coaster continued as McIntyre continued his shooting showing by hitting his third three-pointer in final quarter. Double-teaming Popovic on defense didn’t prevent him from hitting a triple, but Zalgiris flirted too much with offense and over slept on Eze, who dunked to cut the deficit to 68-65. Zalgiris turned to Jankunas inside, but his shot was rejected by Eze, while Ilievsky hit a difficult jumper to keep the visitors alive at 70-67. However, Zalgiris’s top gun weapon Popovic didn’t want to leave the outcome of the game for a buzzer-beater and hit a triple, while Brown added two free throws that sealed victory for hosts at 75-69.
Thursday, January 3, 2008