To close the first half of the regular season, Zalgiris sent a message that echoed all around Group A by taking out Tau Ceramica 95-92 at home in Kaunas, Lithuania on Thursday. Zalgiris improved to 3-4 and holds fifth place in the group, just a victory behind Tau and Olympiacos, tied for the third place with 4-3 records. Marcus Brown led the winners with 27 points while hitting all 6 of his three-point tries, including back-to-back bombs and critical free throws in the final 2 minutes. Marko Popovic added 18 points for Zalgiris, making 11 of 11 free throws, while Jonas Maciulis chipped in 11 and Michael Bradley 10 for the winners. Zoran Planinic and Igor Rakocevic each had 18 points for Tau Ceramica. Tiago Splitter added 16 and 8 rebounds, Will McDonald got 13 points while Pablo Prigioni dished 8 assists for the guests. At the end of a long back-and-forth struggle, Popovic and Bradley stepped up for Zalgiris before Brown's consecutive three-pointers were worth a 93-85 Zalgiris lead. Splitter and Rakocevic got Tau back within striking distance of the lead, but Planinic missed 1 of 2 free throws to make it 93-92 before Brown made both of his at the foul line. Rakocevic got off a game-tying three-point attempt at the other end, but missed, to the delight of the Zalgiris home fans.
Big man Eurelijus Zukauskas dunked to get Zalgiris going, but soon Linton Johnson scored in close and Planinic raced fullcourt with a steal for a 2-4 Tau advantage. Zukauskas responded with a bank shot that Splitter matched at the other end before Rakocevic buried a corner triple to keep Tau ahead, 4-9. Brown quickly answered with a jumper but Simas Jasaitis scored from downtown and Planinic added an electric driving layup to make Zalgiris call timeout at 6-14. The hosts came out pressing fullcourt and got the ball to Zukauskas again for a layup-plus-free throw, but Splitter kept dominating the boards while Planinic made a sensational driving layup. Now rebounding better, Zalgiris also found a go-to guy in Brown, who scored 9 unanswered points a pair of bombs from downtown and an incredible three-point play, drawing the hosts within 18-16. Tau needed a timeout now, after which Splitter beat the 2-3 zone of Zalgiris with a reverse layup. Mantas Kalnietis hit a free throw but Pete Mickeal answered with a triple and McDonald a layup to help Tau regain a 19-23 edge after 10 minutes.
Maciulis started the second quarter with his first points, a layup-plus-free throw combo, to which Kalnietis added a wild driving layup that put Zalgiris back ahead, 24-23. Tau struggled against the Zalgiriz zone until McDonald hit a turnaround jumper, but Bradley scored inside and fed Paulius Jankunas to keep the hosts ahead 28-25. Tau kept going to McDonald, while Marko Popovic followed free throws with a floating layup to force the visitors to use a timeout at 32-27. Mirza Teletovic stepped up with a triple then for Tau, and despite Bradley's put-back dunk, McDonald and Rakocevic, with a three-pointer, forced a 35-35 tie. McDonald made free throws to put Tau ahead again and Teletovic hit a jump hook to make it 36-39, but Zalgiris kept working. Free throws by Jankunas, Collins and Maciulis offset those of Pablo Prigioni and a corner triple by Jasaitis. Brown went to the line and forced another tie, but a buzzer-beating layup by Rakocevic let Tau in front again, 46-48, at halftime.
Zalgiris came out from the break defending well and used an acrobatic shot by Collins for a new tie, 48-48. Tau's offense moved slower now and its shooters were off-target until Rakocevic hit free throws. Next, Maciulis exchanged driving baskets with Rakocevic before Brown's big triple from downtown gave Zalgiris a 53-52 edge. Rakocevic answered with another layup but free throws by Jankunas and Bradley kept Zalgiris up by 56-54. Jasaitis sat with his fourth foul, but Planinic took over for Tau with a driving layup that made it 58-56. Zukauskas scored in the middle while Popovic made free throws to give Zalgiris a six-point lead, 62-56. Planinic scored again in penetration and even though Maciulis dunk, Planinic hit a big triple to get Tau within 64-61. Rakocevic made free throws to bring the guests even closer, 64-63, after 30 minutes.
Goran Jurak scored in penetration right at the start of the fourth quarter but McDonald bettered it with a three-point play to tie again at 66-66. Popovic scored in penetration and followed Planinic's layup with free throws to put Zalgiris back ahead, 70-68. McDonald stepped up with a power basket but Maciulis and a red-hot Popovic gave Zalgiris a 75-70 lead. Planinic scored again but Bradley answered with a second-chance basket. Prigioni hit free throws and even when Popovic answered from downtown, Teletovic copied him for an 80-77 scoreboard. Brown, however, joined the three-point shootout, putting Zalgiris up 83-77, and provoking a timeout by Tau. Splitter answered the call with a jump hook and inside layup, but Jurak's put-back and free throws by Bradley kept Zalgiris ahead, 87-81. Splitter scored again but an outstanding Brown was ready to decide the matter: he beat the shot clock with a seven-meter bomb, came down and scored again from long-range for a sudden 93-85 Zalgiris margin. Tau was not done, however. Splitter and Rakocevic poured in 6 quick points to get the guests as close as 93-91 with 1:11 to go. After Jurak missed a three-point shot, Zukauskas had a critical block on Splitter. But when Collins missed for Zalgiris, Planinic drew a foul with 9.4 seconds remaining. He missed his first attempt, however, and Brown did not miss either of his foul shots a second later, making it 95-92 score with 8.7 seconds to go. Tau called timeout and got the inbounds pass to Rakocevic, but his miss from downtown meant a major win for Zalgiris.
Thursday, December 6, 2007