Caja Laboral became the Group E champion with a tough 68-77 road win over Lietuvos Rytas at Siemens Arena in the Lithuanian capital, eliminating the home team from the playoff along the way. A brilliant effort from Fernando San Emeterio – 19 points, 11 rebounds and 8 fouls drawn – lifted the Spanish champs to victory in a do-or-die clash. The game was close with the host tying the score early in the fourth quarter, but Laboral continued to play at an elite level and despite the never-ending support of a sold-out arena, Rytas seemed to run out of steam. Rytas finished Group E with a 4-2 record and will have home-court advantage when it faces Maccabi Electra in the best-of-five Quarterfinal Playoffs. David Logan added 15 points for the winners, Stanko Barac scored 13, Mirza Teletovic 12 and Marcelinho Huertas 10. Rytas dropped to 3-3 and missed the playoffs by one win. The Lithuanian champs got 14 points from Kenan Bajramovic, while Milko Bjelica added 13 and Jonas Valanciunas capped a promising rookie season with 9 points and 11 rebounds.
After a packed Siemens Arena greeted the teams, it was Laboral that opened the scoring as Logan penetrated. Simas Jasaitis stepped up with a corner triple immediately, but the visitors ran fast as Teletovic added two consecutive long-range jumpers and both Logan and San Emeterio converted threes to complete a 0-10 run for a 3-12 start. A much-needed timeout helped Rytas as Bjelica dunked, but Laboral simply couldn't miss. Red-hot Teletovic sank another jumper and San Emeterio added a triple for an early double-digit lead, 7-17. Defense just didn't work for Rytas as Laboral had already scored 21 points in seven minutes. Finally the hosts seemed to wake up as Brad Newley got to the rim, but Laboral stayed safe and widened its lead to 13-27. Fresh-off-the-bench Bajramovic nailed a triple to end a confusing quarter for Lietuvos Rytas.
Martynas Gecevicius opened the second quarter with a jumper and, after Valanciunas added a layup, the game was on, 20-27. Caja Laboral needed a quick timeout as Gecevicius penetrated for a basket-plus-foul. The break didn't help as the visiting team was still stuck on the offensive end. Rytas was no better, though, missing open threes and turning the ball over. Finally, DJ Strawberry ended three minutes of draught by sinking a jumper off a steal by Gecevicius. Bajramovic then shortened the gap even more, but Esteban Batista calmly converted free throws and Teletovic nailed a triple to calm the visitors' nerves, 26-32. Khalid El-Amin scored his first points, but Logan stepped up with another bomb from downtown. After Pape Sow made free-throws and stretched Laboral’s lead to 28-37, Rytas needed a timeout. The gameplay then slowed down a bit but the hosts soon pushed harder and cut the deficit to a single point after a layup-plus-foul by Bjelica and a dunk by Bajramovic. Huertas and Strawberry exchanged free-throws and locked the halftime score at 39-40.
Barac used his height to open up the second half with a layup, but Bajramovic did the same. Newley even dunked to give Rytas its first and, as it turned out later, only lead of the game, 43-42, but couldn't stop San Emeterio and Logan. The latter converted two difficult shots to regain the initiative for Laboral at 43-48. Bjelica stepped up with a shot of his own, but San Emeterio struck again with back-to-back baskets-plus-fouls as only Bajramovic interrupted in between, 47-54. El-Amin broke the silence after a timeout with a layup and Bajramovic added a free throw to get Rytas a little closer. Valanciunas and Batista exchanged baskets and Gecevicius nailed a three, but a cool San Emeterio answered with free-throws, leaving the intrigue for the decisive quarter, 55-58.
Strawberry exploded with a three to open the last 10 minutes and tie the score, but Batista got Caja Laboral back on track with a layup. A red-hot Strawberry stayed on fire as he dunked, but the visitors hit back with a nifty 2-9 run after triples by Huertas and Barac and a free-throw by San Emeterio to make it 62-69. With five minutes left, Lietuvos Rytas needed to act quickly and did as Valanciunas sank a layup. However, San Emeterio got to the rim once more to regain a 7-point advantage. Bjelica got the hosts closer with a fastbreak penetration, but Teletovic nailed a huge three, giving Caja Laboral a more than comfortable 66-74 lead with less than two minutes on the clock. Bjelica managed to cut the gap quickly but the hosts couldn't grab important offensive rebounds and all hopes were lost soon.
Thursday, March 3, 2011