Taking advantage of the absence of MVP leader Arvydas Sabonis from the Zalgiris lineup, Montepaschi Siena posted a major road win, 73-75, in Kaunas, Lithuania on Thursday to move up to a third-place tie in Group B. Free throws by David Vanterpool in the final minute proved the difference for Montepaschi, which improved to 5-4 and joins Panathiniakos and Skipper Bologna in third place. Zalgiris drops to 4-5 and sixth place with its fourth successive defeat. Vrbica Stefanov and Bootsy Thornton scored 15 points each for the winners, while Giacomo Galanda added 13 and Vanterpool 12. Zalgiris got 18 points from Ed Cota, 16 points and 9 rebounds from Tanoka Beard, 14 points from new signee Ainars Bagatskis and 11 from Mindaugas Timinskas. Besides missing Sabonis, who was in bed with pneumonia, Zalgiris was without veteran shooter Misha Beric, sidelined with tendinitis.
Without Sabonis, Bagatskis was a surprise starter against a Montepaschi team playing with great confidence of late. The game was very physical and slow at the beginning. It took almost 2 minutes until Roberto Chiacig opened the scoring and almost 2 more for Paulius Jankunas to tie it. Bagatskis then greeted the home fans with a pair of three-pointers, which served to offset the same shots by Stefanov and Galanda. Montepaschi played a choking defense that was limiting Zalgiris offensive potential. Galanda was continuing to do good job offensively, but the score was still low, 10-10, after 6 minutes. Stefanov converted 2 free throws, but Bagatskis was not shy on his first night in the Euroleague, either, and landed his third three. Stefanov challenged him with a downtown shot, tying the score at 15-15 with 2 minutes to go. After a three-point play by Timinskas, Galanda added his 2 points, but Zalgiris finished with baskets by Cota and Beard for a 22-17 edge after 10 minutes.
Another basket by Beard and Cota's steal, leading to a three-point play, was good for the biggest Zalgiris lead yet, 28-20. Montepaschi intensified its defense then, as David Andersen and Thornton reduced the gap to four pts, 30-26. Midway through the period, Cota and Vanterpool exchanged baskets for 35-28, but then Montepaschi converted a couple of Zalgiris mistakes into easy points and a 39-36 scoreboard. Timinskas made 2 free throws late and Beard put in a third-chance basket underneath. After Vanterpool slalomed through Zalgiris paint, the teams entered the last minute of the quarter at 43-38. Many things happened in that minute but none of them has changed the score.
If Montepaschi had survived on size in the first half, grabbing 8 offensive rebounds, it also had stopped Bagastkis after his trio of early triples. Now, the Zalgiris newcomer resumed his downtown strikes, getting in a contest with Stefanov. Thornton answered to two-point shots by Cota and Beard with a basket of his own. Beard was then called for a fourth foul, charging inside the paint, after which Galanda and Vanterpool connected for 5 points, thinning the Zalgiris lead to 50-47. With Beard benched, Zalgiris lost more size and Montepaschi was taking advantage. Galanda's two- and Stefanov's three-pointer put the guests ahead, 50-52, at the end of an impressive 0-11 run. Thornton hit from downtown for a 52-55 Montepaschi lead, which Timinskas could only reduce by a point for Zalgiris, to 55-57 after 30 minutes.
Without Beard, the rebounding problems continued for Zalgiris as Thornton and Galanda increased the guests' lead to 57-61 early in the final quarter. Zalgiris started defending in a zone, but Mindaugas Zukauskas found a loophole in it for Montepaschi. Beard returned while Dainius Salenga converted 2 foul shots. With 5 minutes to go, Beard tied again at 65-65 and Cota put the hosts back ahead ... but only until Zukauskas, the Lithuanian visitor, hit a clock-beating three-pointer. Beard dragged Zalgiris with 6 consecutive points. Then Thornton and Cota exhanged baskets before Salenga stole and drove downcourt to miss a possibly fatal layup. The man for Montepaschi was Zukauskas, who again eluded the Zalgiris defense for an easy basket. Vanterpool and Thornton stole balls from the hands of Bagatskis and Cota, respectively, and that signalled the end of the game, 71-72 with 12 seconds to the buzzer and ball in Montepaschi's possession. Vanterpool made 2 free throws and Zalgiris had a last chance, but Beard scored just a two-point basket. Stefanov missed deliberately one free throw to let the clock run, and the visitors won, 73-75.
Thursday, January 15, 2004