Zalgiris Kaunas ended a 15-game Top 16 losing streak by pounding Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv 101-82 on Thursday night at the S. Darius and S. Girenas Sport Center. The Lithuanian champs took 20 offensive rebounds and won the battle of the boards 45-25 to improve to 1-1, matching Maccabi’s record in Group F. Zalgiris visits Olaympiacos Piraeus next week, while Maccabi hosts Real Madrid. Zalgiris hadn’t won a Top 16 game since beating Ulker Istanbul on March 24, 2004, including a devastating loss at Maccabi in the Top 16 finale on Derrick Sharp’s famous miracle three-pointer that cost the Lithuanian champs a spot in the Final Four. It looked like Maccabi had Zalgiris’s number once more as Esteban Batista punished the hosts early on Thursday and the visitors build a surprising 12-point second period lead. But Zalgiris found an answer in Mamadou N'Diaye and as the visitors, playing shorthanded upfront without the injured Marcus Fizer and Nikola Vujcic, grew tired, the hosts climbed back to tie the score at 48-48 at halftime. The second half was a different story as DeJuan Collins orchestrated the attack and Marcus Brown and Jonas Maciulis scored at will and Zalgiris pounded Maccabi into submission. Maciulis matched his career-high with 22 points in 20 minutes to lead Zalgiris. Brown added 19 points, Collins scored 12 and dished 7 assists, N'Diaye recorded 11 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals and Marko Popovic finished with 11 points. Batista had season-highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds to pace Maccabi, which ended a six-game winning streak and lost for the first time under head coach Zvika Sherf. Will Bynum added 13 and Vonteego Cummings 11 in defeat.
Both teams exchanged turnovers before Brown opened the scoring with a mid-range jumper after Eurelijus Ziukauskas fed him with nice assist. Batista responded with spectacular dunk, but Collins matched him with off the dribble jumper. Maciulis drilled a three-pointer from the left corner before David Bluthenthal tied the score with outside shot. Zalgiris regained the lead after a basket by Brown, but it was just for a few seconds as Macabbi started to play aggressively and reacted with 2-9 run. Zalgiris head coach Rimantas Grigas put some power under the boards with N'Diaye entering the game and it paid off soon as he started with 2 free throws made and 2 consecutive offensive rebounds. Brown nailed a three to which Collins added a jumper that tied the score at 17-17. Both teams exchanged a few baskets before Terence Morris scored a nice layup in transition that put Maccabi ahead. Popovic missed an open three-pointer and the visitors closed the first quarter with three points from Bynum to take a 21-26 lead.
Maccabi started the second quarter with aggressive defense, but Goran Jurak drove along the baseline and hit a difficult layup. However a red-hot Batista continued to dominate in the paint, scoring a layup to which Morris added a basket that extended the visitors’ lead to 23-33. N'Diaye provided a highlight dunk, but it didn‘t cool off Maccabi as the visitors responded with a nice alloey-oop by Alex Garcia and bomb from outside by Bynum. Collins penetrated and scored, but Zalgiris seemed hopeless against Batista, who was doubled teamed but somehow managed to score again. It was wake up call for Zalgiris, who responded with fast-break basket-plus-foul by Maciulis that cut the lead to single digits. Knowing that Maccabi collected more than 5 team fouls, Zalgiris tried to run its offense through the paint and this tactic led Paulius Jankunas to the free-throw line, where he hit 2 and was copied by Brown who added another pair. Bluthenthal fired up an airball from downtown while Zalgiris kept going through the paint and forcing the opponents to foul. N'Diaye failed to score from under the basket and Derrick Sharp scored a layup in transition to push his team to 39-46. Maciulis missed a jumper, but N'Diaye jumped higher and scored a put-back basket. Zalgiris emphasized defense and the visitors found all paths to the basket closed. N'Diaye stole the ball on one possession and blocked a shot in another while on the offensive end Brown nailed a triple after 4 unsuccessful attempts previously. Damir Markota scored his first basket, but the last word came from restless Batista who tied the score with acrobatic layup at 48-48 at halftime.
Zalgiris started quarter with Maciulis show, who hit back-to-back threes and added a put-back. Maccabi got back to the game with basket by Batista and a three from Cummings, however Zalgiris didn’t slow down the pace and Collins made two baskets to which Maciulis added another layup that forced the visitors to thin things over with a timeout. Zalgiris returned to the court with the same motivation and Popovic hit from outside the arc to extend the gap to 67-55. Lior Eliyahu drove inside for a nice layup before Garcia made 1 of 2 free throws. Zalgiris answered with 5 points from 2 free throws by Markota and a three-pointer by veteran Dainius Salenga. Markota missed on a four-against-one fast-break, but he grabbed an offensive rebound and made a put-back basket-plus-foul. Eliyahu scored from under the basket and Bynum added 2 free throws, but Zalgiris finished the third quarter on a high note as N'Diaye’s fast-break dunk gave Zalgiris a 79-62 lead after 30 minutes.
Brown opened the final quarter with three-pointer before Bynum scored on the fast break. The hosts continued launching triples as Popovic made a three from the left corner. Garcia picked up his fifth foul against Maciulis and headed to the bench, while Maciulis made 2 from the line. Maccabi couldn’t even hit open shots and scored only 2 points in almost five minutes until Batista made 2 free throws. Zalgiris smartly used its advantage in the paint and made second chance shots constantly. Omri Caspi came through the paint for a difficult off-the-glass shot before Brown connected from almost midcourt and extended the margin to 96-68. Maciulis played very hard against Caspi and was ejected for a hard foul. Caspi made both free throws and Batista added a layup for the visitors. Cummings then fired from downtown, but it was N'Diaye who scored last and broke Zalgiris’s losing streak with a solid 101-82 victory.
Thursday, February 21, 2008