| Lietuvos Rytas made its return to the Euroleague a successful one with a 77-70 win over Efes Pilsen in front of a packed house at the Siemens Arena in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Thursday. A fantastic shooting effort from Martynas Gecevicius and brilliant playmaking from Bojan Popovic guided the hosts to start Group B on the right foot. Gecevicius practically doubled his previous career high with 21 points on 5-for-8 three-point shooting, while Popovic recorded his first career Euroleague double-double with 11 points, 10 assists and 3 steals. Donatas Zavackas added 15 points and Aron Baynes 14 for the winners. Preston Shumpert led Efes with 12 points, Igor Rakocevic scored 11 and Charles Smith scored 10 in defeat. The Lithuanian champs, who outrebounded Efes 35-23, now go on the road to challenge Entente Orleanaise in France, while Efes entertains Partizan in its home opener.
Defense and muscle defined a hard-fought first quarter with L. Rytas taking the lead thanks to its superior ball movement and aggressive play under the boards. Baynes drew first blood for L. Rytas with a slam off a miss by Popovic. Daniel Santiago matched his dunk off an inbounds pass by Rakocevic, and Smith hit an acrobatic la up to give Efes the early lead. Milko Bjelica came off the bech and hit a layup off a cut down the lane, and Popovic threaded a pass to Gecevicus cutting along the baseline for a reverse layin. More nice ball movement ended in layup by Bjelica to reclaim the lead. Rakocevic got a finger roll to fall to moments later, but Bjelica banged home a bank shot after muscling into the post. Rakocevic stepped up and drilled a three-pointer, but Bjelica once again got 2 more off another offensive board. Kerem Tunceri drove in and applied a soft touch to get a layin to fall off the glass to cut the lead to 1 before the TV timeout with three minutes to play in the first. Out of the timeout, Popovic converted a two-plus-one when hacked from behind by Kaya Peker on a floater in the lane. Gecevicius hit a mid-range jumper and a layup on consecutive possessions to give the home team a 19-13 lead, but Bostjan Nachbar answered for Efes with a three from the wing. Zavackas made 2 from the line to give L. Rytas a 21-16 lead going into the second quarter.
Dejan Borovnjak scored in the post to open the second period as L. Rytas began to completely intimidate the visitors in the paint. Nachbar was forced to take it outside and drilled a three to cut the lead to 23-19. Gecevicius hit a jumper from the baseline and the Lithuanian champs continued to dominate the boards, 18-7, with five minutes to play in the half. Out of an Efes, timeout Steponas Babrauskas hit a three to give L. Rytas its first double-digit lead. Smith responded to a jumper by Popovic with a three-pointer, but Baynes then powered in 2 points in the post and Zavackas added 2 free throws. Smith managed to get a long fade away to fall, but once again Baynes smashed his way to the bucket and put back his own miss between three Efes defenders to send L. Rytas into the break up 38-25. L. Rytas Limited Efes to only three exterior shots and one free throw in that quarter while totally dominated the paint on both ends.
Gecevicius drained a deep three to give L. Rytas a 41-25 lead to open the third. Tunceri answered with a triple of his own, but Zavackas dropped another bomb and Baynes was left totally open for a dunk, 46-28. Baynes collected his third offensive board off the rim and slammed it home for his 10th point. Bootsy Thorton, knowing his team needed a boost, drove in for two points. Then Baynes took over. The center got 2 points from the line, made a massive block on defense, and then worked down low for an easy layup for a 52-35 lead. Shumpert hit a three from the wing, but Zavackas matched him from the top of the key and then notched 2 from the line.The Lithuanian champs kept pouring it on with a three by Babrauskas for their biggest lead, 60-38, on a play that saw Tunceri go off with a slight limp . Smith hit his second three-pointer and Rakocevic hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead to 60-44, but Popovic drained a jumper from the key. Mario Kasun’s first 2 points came on a dunk to end the quarter at 62-46.
Rakocevic notched his 10th point of the encounter going 1 for 2 from the line to get the lead down to 15 in the opening moments of the final period. After a subsequent turnover, L. Rytas head coach Kurtinaitis called for time to settle his squad. Smith took advantage of another L. Rytas giveaway driving in from the wing for a dunk to cut the lead to 62-51, and the jitters of the crowd began to be heard. Gecevicius calmed the home fans with a deep three, and after a layup by Shumpert, the L. Rytas guard struck again from downtown to push the lead to 68-55. Gecevicius then drained his fifth three-pointer to effectively put the game out of reach, 71-55, with five minutes to play. Efes got to within ten points on a Kasun put back and 2 free throws by Thornton. But it was too little, too late, especially after Popovic flipped in a pretty layup. Efes pressed in the final moments and a Kasun slam cut the lead to 77-70 in the waning seconds of the L. Rytas victory.
Thursday, October 22, 2009