A week after one of its worst Euroleague home losses ever, Zalgiris Kaunas rebounded with an 76-86 triumph over AEK in Athens Athens on Wednesday in Group B. Zalgiris evened its record at 1-1, while AEK went into a danger zone at 0-2. A zone defense turned the game around for Zalgiris in the first half, and the oustide-inside duo of Robert Pack and Tanoka Beard took over from there. The veteran Pack exploded for 29 points, 20 of which came in the second half, while Beard posted a huge double-double of 19 points and 14 rebounds to control the paint when it counted. Mindaugas Timinskas added 15 points for the winners. For AEK, Toby Bailey led the way with 17 points, but missed 8 of 10 three-point tries. Nikos Zissis added 16 points and Andreas Glyniadakis 10 for the losers. AEK tried to win with three-pointers, but made only 5 of 28 shots from the arc on the night.
Both teams tried to put the ball inside the basket in the beginning of the first quarter. The first two baskets of Zalgiris were scored after efforts in the paint by Beard and Paulius Jankunas. Andreas Glyniadakis slam dunked for AEK to bring the Yellows their first two points, 2-4. After that, the transition game was key for the Lithuanian champs to get some easy three-pointers, 2 by Timinskas and another by Pack, to lead after just five minutes, 8-17. Bailey started AEK back with 5 points of his own, including his team's first shot from the arc, but another Zalgiris triple, this time from Dainius Salenga, gave the guests their biggest lead yet, at 13-22. Then it was Zizis to the rescue for AEK, with 6 consecutive points in an 8-0 run to close the quarte. Sotiris Nikolaidis, who helped tighten AEK's perimeter defense, also scored the last basket to bring the hosts within 21-23 after 10 minutes.
To start the second quarter, a basket by Giannis Bourousis of AEK tied the score for the first time, 23-23. AEK captain Nikos Hatzis then came off the bench and gave his team the lead with a jumper. Bailey and Bourousis added a pair of dunks to make it 29-23 and extend AEK's takeover run to 16-1. In all, Zalgiris had suffered more than 6 minutes without anything but free throws. Visiting coach Antanas Sireika ordered a zone defense, and like that, Zalgiris turned the tables on AEK, running off 9 unanswered points of its own. Pack sparked the run, Timinskis hit 3 free throws and Jankunas capped it with a layup that put the guests back ahead, 39-32. The scoring slowed for both teams as AEK continued to struggle against the Zalgiris zone. After a series of free throws, another layup by Timinskas sent Zalgiris into halftime with a three-point lead to protect, at 36-39.
The second half started exactly as the first, free throws by Beard putting Zalgiris up 36-41. Glyniadakis added 4 points in a row to pull AEK within 40-41. That did not worry Zalgiris much, however, because now is when Pack started taking over. He would reel off basket after basket as the guests raced ahead again by 8 points, 40-48. When Pack wasn't hurting AEK from the perimeter, Beard was doing so in the paint. The two combined for 18 points in the quarter. Meanwhile, as long as AEK tried to find all its answers from behind the arc, Zalgiris had an easy defensive job. Glyniadakis grabbed some offensive rebounds and drew some fouls in the paint, but the Zalgiris transition game was proving unstoppable for AEK as the lead topped 10 points, at 45-56, in the 26th minute. That's where the difference held, too, as the third quarter ended with Zalgiris in full control with a 53-64 advantage.
Big man Arturas Javtokas hit a sky-hook and Beard 2 more free throws to give Zalgiris the biggest lead, 53-68, just 50 seconds into the final quarter. Zalgiris played up-tempo and threw baseball passes, a style that AEK seemed unable to keep up with. Whenever AEK tried to cut the margin a bit, Zalgiris shut the door. Pack did most of the slamming, staying hot to keep the Zalgiris lead at 66-76 with under 5 minutes left. Beard was dominant in the paint and scored easily in one-on-one situations. A steal by Bailey and his assist to Zisis got AEK as close as 78-72. Then a three-pointer by Nikolaidis made it 80-75. Hatzis had a chance from the arc to trim the difference to 2 points, but when he didn't, Timinskas took the opportunity to make it 82-75 with 2 free throws with a minute to go. AEK needed urgently some good three-point shooting, but their hopes stopped on the rim, as Zalgiris clinched a 86-76 road victory.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004