| New-look Zalgiris gave the fans in Kaunas, Lithuania plenty to like and took an important step in Group A by running away to a 71-52 victory over visiting Asvel Basket of France on Wednesday in the Euroleague regular season opener for both teams. Zalgiris impressed as much with its defense as with the mix of newcomers and old standbys who led the victory. Mantas Kalnietis led the winners in scoring with 17 points, including late back-to-back triples that might come in handy later in the season if tie-breaker points are needed. The rest of the game, Marcus Brown and Martynas Pocius paced Zalgiris with 16 points each, while Travis Watson controlled the boards to the tune of 14 rebounds. Five Zalgiris players had 2 or more assists. For Asvel, two players put up most of the numbers. Big man Curtis Borchardt had a game-high 20 points and 7 rebounds in his Euroleague debut, while Bobby Dixon followed with 10 points and 9 rebounds. The Zalgiris fans will likely remember this as the debut of Pocius, whose 3 three-pointers in 5 minutes after making his entrance in the first quarter secured leads that the home team protected well the rest of the game.
Free throws by Borchardt and Brown got their respective teams on the scoreboard to start the game and the season. However, it was Dixon who was the early protagonist, hitting 2 triples in the first 5 minutes to send Asvel ahead by 8-10. That's when Pocius stepped off the bench to blast his first shot, from downtown, after which Zalgiris didn't give up the lead again all night. Pocius fired again from the arc at 16-11. Borchardt worked inside to get 2 points back for Asvel, but Pocius got to the line for a free throw to put the hosts up 17-13. He wasn't done, though. On the last shot before the buzzer, one of the best first-quarter debuts in Euroleague history saw Pocius fire up a his third triple in less than 5 minutes to give Zalgiris a 20-15 lead.
Brown, Mirza Begic and Tadas Klimavicius picked up the scoring early in the second quarter as Zalgiris lengthened its lead to 19-27. Asvel had its own spark in Kristian Kangur, with 4 quick points, but the Zalgiris defense stopped the visitors cold after that. Meanwhile, Mantas Kalnietis hit a driving layup to push the difference into double digits. Kangur stopped the slide with a triple, but Klimavicius kept up his end of the scoring with a jump-hook and dunk inside sandwiched around a pair of free throws from Pocius, now back in action. With those two youngsters pacing them, Zalgiris strode into halftime looking strong with a 40-27 advantage.
Zalgiris threatened to run away after halftime as Kalnietis buried a shot from downtown and Dainius Salenga dunked to make it 45-27, but Asvel went inside to recover. Borchardt scored twice in a row there and Ali Traore followed him to cut the difference to 45-33 and force a Zalgiris timeout. The hosts not only locked down their interior defense after that, but fed the ball inside to Watson, whose 4 points in a row followed by free throws from Brown restored a big lead, 51-35. Pocius came back to show off his driving skills, while Asvel stuck with Borchardt and Traore - who would score all their team's points in the quarter - to stay within 53-39 after 30 minutes.
The Zalgiris defense made sure that difference would hold up in the fourth quarter by allowing little more than Borchardt's trips to the free throw line as Kalnietis, Brown and Begic upped the lead to 60-41. Brown downed a triple at 63-43 before Asvel's backcourt scored its first points of the entire half on fastbreak layups by Eric Campbell and Dixon. Out of a Zalgiris timeout, Campbell answered a Watson dunk with a shot from arc, but then Kalnietis sentenced the outcome for good - no doubt with an eye on future tie-breakers in the group. His back-to-back triples surged the difference to 71-50 and sent the Kaunas fans home happy at the start of the Euroleague season.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009