Zalgiris downs undermanned Zvezda
In a replay of their rescheduled Round 24 game, Zalgiris Kaunas saved an essential home win by outlasting undermanned Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade 75-62 on Tuesday. Zalgiris lifted its record to 14-11 as it straddles the eighth and final playoff spot while Zvezda fell to 7-17 with its sixth consecutive defeat, ever further from the same goal. It was a tale of two halves. A 0-12 run bridging the first two quarters gave Zvezda control of the scoreboard and an eventual 22-35 lead. Zalgiris inched its way back until a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter put the hosts up 55-50, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. The Zalgiris defense held Zvezda to 18 second-half points, just 4 in the final quarter. Marius Grigonis led the winners with 17 points, while Nigel Hayes added 16 and Augustine Rubit 15. Zvezda got 16 apiece from Jordan Loyd and Marko Simonovic.
With a triple each, Hayes and Lloyd scored all the points in an early 5-5 tie. Aleksa Uskokovic put Zvezda ahead briefly before Lauvergne and Hayes made it 10-7 for the hosts. Marko Jagoric-Kuridza kept Zvezda close and Marko Simonovic's 5 points in a row shot the visitors in front, 16-18. Hayes and Ognjen Dobric traded baskets before Simonovic measured off 2 more triples as Zvezda held a 22-26 advantage after 10 minutes. Simonovic hit 3 free throws to open the second quarter and Dejan Davidovac buried from long distance for a sudden 22-32 advantage. Zvezda's scrambling defense kept blanking Zalgiris as Dobric joined the visitors' three-point party. Lauvergne ended the hosts' four-minute drought but Jagoric-Kuridza answered with a put-back. Hayes reappeared from the arc and Grigonis copied him for his first points to make it 30-39. Rubit kept it going for Zalgiris and Grigonis buried another triple to complete a 13-4 run to within 35-39. Simonovic restarted Zvezda's offense and Uskokovic hit from deep as the visitors took a 40-44 advantage into halftime.
Uskokovic and Branko Lazic boosted the difference to 50-45 after halftime before Rubit and Grigonis, with a step-back three, took it all back. Grigonis stole and hit free throws for Zalgiris's first lead, 52-50, since 16-15 of the first quarter. Hayes then buried a triple to make it 55-50. Dobric ended Zalgiris's 20-0 run from deep and Lauvergne replied with a hook shot. Loyd took a feed from Davidovac for a layup and then beat the buzzer from deep to keep Zvezda within 60-58 after 30 minutes. Rubit broke 2 scoreless minutes to start the fourth quarter and then Paulius Jankunas tipped in a miss at 64-58, prompting a Zvezda timeout. Rubit and Jankunas kept it going to 68-58 before Loyd stole and finished to break a long drought for the visitors. But Thomas Walkup converted a three-point play next, and with just 3 minutes left, that was too much for Zvezda to recoup.
Zvezda's pride showed
Despite missing five players due to injury and COVID-19 cases, Zvezda came out firing, went ahead by double digits in the second quarter and hit nearly its average with 7 three-pointers before the half. Fatigue and lack of extra help paid a price after that, however, as Zalgiris was able to turn up the intensity such that Zvezda could not match it without missing players Langston Hall, Duop Reath, Landry Nnoko and Quino Colom. Recently recovered guard Corey Walden was with the team but didn't get off the bench. And this week Zvezda parted ways with its second-best scorer and top rebounder, Johnny O'Bryant.
It was still a close 60-58 game early in the fourth quarter when Augustine Rubit broke 2 scoreless minutes with an inside basket, just missed another that Paulius Jankunas tipped in, then scored again, lighting the fuse for what would become an easy finish for Zalgiris. Rubit would have 6 of his 15 points, 4 of his 8 rebounds and a block in that final quarter to finish with a PIR of 16 and help decide the game.
Did you know?
A home win is rare in this 10-game series. Road teams had a 6-3 record coming into Tuesday, and neither team had beaten the other on its own court in their last three meetings. The last home win before Tuesday's by Zalgiris was on January 5, 2018, when Zvezda prevailed 77-65 in Belgrade.
Both these teams get right back at it later this week in Round 26. Zalgiris travels to face Real Madrid on Thursday, while Zvezda stays on the road and goes to Spain, as well, facing off with TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz on Friday.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021