Real Madrid took a major step toward the Quarterfinals Playoff by beating Zalgiris 69-83 in Kaunas, Lithuania on Thursday to retain a share of first place in Top 16 Group F. Madrid improved to 3-1 and took over place exclusively when Maccabi Elite lost at home to Olympiacos. Meanwhile, Zalgiris dropped to 1-3 and last place, likely needing to win its two remaining games and get help to surviv. Felipe Reyes led the winners with 18 points after helping Madrid take command earlyh. Kerem Tunceri added 16 points by hitting 5 of 6 three-pointers, including a pair to beat end-of-quarter buzzers. Louis Bullock had 15 points while Raul Lopez got 10 for Madrid. Marko Popovic led Zalgriis with 18 points, Marcus Brown added 15, Paulius Jankunas just missed a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds while Jonas Maciulis had 10 points for the hosts. Reyes and a red-hot Charles Smith combined for 17 points in 6 minutes give Madrid the first of many double-digit leads at 24-33. Tunceri's second triple in 90 seconds beat the buzzer for a 30-44 Madrid halftime lead. Jankunas and Brown fueled a 10-1 run that gave Zalgiris some hope, 40-47, after the break, but after a six-point play due to a technical foul on Zalgiris and Tunceri beating the third-quarter buzzer, too, Madrid had double-digit leads that carried it the rest of the way.
The crowd, which included legends Arvydas Sabonis and Vladimir Tkachenko seated together in the front row, was fully behind Zalgiris but Lazaros Papadopoulos opened the scoring for Madrid with a semi-hook. Brown matched him with layup, but Papadopoulos went against Eurelijus Zukauskas again and hit another basket. Zalgiris fans could cheer again as Jankunas scored a long jumper to which Brown added a go-ahead basket at 6-4. Zaukauskas extended the margin with layup before Lopez launched missile from the downtown. Madrid couldn't find ways through Zalgiris' man-on-man defense until Axel Hervelle made both free throws that cut the difference for the visitors to 12-9. Reyes challenged the smaller Maciulis with the reverse layup in the paint while an offensive foul on Goran Jurak, his third, sent Reyes to the line to hit a pair of free throws. Collins missed a three-pointer but Maciulis together with Mamadou N'diaye tapped in the ball to tie the score to 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Reyes opened the second quarter with a pick-'n'-roll layup, but Zalgiris struck back with long jumper by Jankunas and shorter one by Popovic. Madrid answered with a go-ahead triple by Charles Smith but Brown matched him on the next possession. Madrid had found its go-to guy in Smith, however, who penetrated for a layup and drilled a huge triple to which Reyes added an easy layup as he was left alone in the paint. Zalgiris continued to struggle on the both ends as Madrid found offensive rhythm to go with stifling defense as Reyes pushed the lead to double digits at 24-33. Zalgiris called for a much-needed timeout that didn't help as Madrid came back and found Bullock wide open for another triple. N'diaye made a layup assisted by Collins and Maciulis added a difficult put-back. But neither was enough to ignite a comeback because Zalgiris also let Tunceri launch a pair of triples that fell through in silence, the second on the halftime buzzer, by which time Madrid was fully in control at 30-44.
An exchang of misses after halftime ended with Lopez landing an incredible fall-away semi hook. Collins soon assisted Jankunas for an alley-oop dunk on an inbounds play and Brown fired up the crowd with a three-pointer from the left wing. Zalgiris turned around a pair of missed free throws by Zukauskis when Brown ended up with the ball and nailed extra-long triple to which Jankunas added a layup that reduced the gap to 40-47. Madrid turned to Lopez then, and he responded with 5 points to settle down the guests. Popovic hit free throws for Zalgiris and connected from the behind the arc to maintain a seven-poin margin, 45-52. After Reyes and Popovic exchanged free throws, Jurak's putback basket at 49-54 got the crowd rocking as Madrid called a timeout. Alex Mumbru came up big then by putting back an offensive rebound on which N'diaye was called for a foul and Jurak earned a technical, his fifth and last foul, for complaining. Madrid made Zalgiris pay with a six-point possession and when Tunceri finished another quarter from downtown on the buzzer, the guests had another 12-point lead, 53-65, after 30 minutes.
Brown opened the fourth quarter trying to spark the hosts with a difficult fadeaway jumper, but Madrid went inside to Reyes for 4 points on free throws and a short shot. Bullock and Damir Markota exchanged triples but already the hosts were showing signs of tiredness that did not herald a comeback. What's more, Tunceri continued his shootout show, nailing his fourth three-pointer. Markota dunked on the fastbreak, assisted by Maciulis, who soon made a three-pointer but missed free throws that might have helped. Regardless, by the time Hervelle scored a nice layup midway through the quarter, the difference was 64-77. Brown missed consecutive three-pointers for Zalgiris, but Popovic came on-court to make one and Jankunas added layup, but it all seemed too little, too late. Tunceri missed a free throw but made up for it with yet another triple to cap a solid victory that leaves Madrid on the doorstep of the playoffs and Zalgiris in do-or-die straits.
Thursday, March 6, 2008