Zalgiris Kaunas affirmed its status as a serious Top 16 challenger by picking up its first road win of the season, 80-85 at Prokom Trefl Sopot on Wednesday night. Marko came up big down the stretch and DeJuan Collins made his free throws to help the Lithuanian champs improve to 5-4 and remain at least in fourth place in Group A through nine games. Meanwhile Prokom’s Top 16 hopes continued to fade rapidly with its fifth straight defeat. The Polish champs are now 1-8 and all alone at the bottom of the standings. Prokom was the more inspired team early on as Milan Gurovic and Donatas Slanina heated up and the hosts raced out to a 14-3 start. Prokom led by as many as 14 in the opening period, but Zalgiris was able to get within 40-35 by halftime. The third period belonged to Zalgiris, which outscored Prokom 3-15 at one point to take the lead for good. Filip Dylewicz continued to believe in his team’s chances and carried Prokom back in the final minutes. Slanina hit back-to-back threes to get Zalgiris within 78-79, but a Marcus Brown three and Collins free throws saved the Zalgiris win. Popovic shot 6 for 8 from downtown en route to a season-high 21 points to lead Zalgiris. Brown and Collins added 16 apiece and Jonas Maciulis scored 12. Slanina led Prokom with 19, Gurovic added 17, Tomas Van den Spiegel finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks and Dylewicz scored 12.
After a slow opening minute in which both teams missed shots, Jovo Stanojevic’s hook over Eurelijus Zukauskas put Prokom on top first. Slanina added a jumper and Gurovic scored to make it 6-0 before Brown popped in a second-chance jumper for Zalgiris’s first points. Gurovic came back with a triple and soon added another as Prokom surged to a 14-3 lead, which convinced Zalgiris head coach Rimas Grigas to take a timeout. After the stoppage, Paulius Jankunas scored and soon Maciulis hit a triple to get the Lithuanian champs going. But the hosts had an answer for nearly every Zalgiris basket to keep a double-digit lead. Collins came up with a steal, but after he missed the shot, he committed a loose-ball foul and then received a technical for saying too much. An Igor Milicic free throw for his first Euroleague point and a Slanina jumper put the hosts up 22-8. Brown free throws made it 22-10 after 10 minutes.
Popovic got Zalgiris started in the second period with a foul-line jumper and next he fed Michael Bradley for a basket. Goran Jurak’s basket-plus-foul on the offensive glass got the visitors within 8 before Van den Spiegel threw down a slam in transition for Prokom. The teams started to trade baskets, with Christos Harissis matching Collins with an excellent penetration move as the Prokom lead remained in the 6-8 points range, until Dylewicz made it a 10-point gap and then Slanina fed Van den Spiegel to put the Polish champs ahead 32-20. Triples by Jankunas and Maciulis cut the gap to 7, but Slanina rifled in a three to keep the hosts in control. Collins fed Zukauskas for a slam and Popovic hit from downtown as Zalgiris clawed its way back. Brown remained perfect from the line this season to get within 3. Gurovic hit twice from the line and Van den Spiegel swatted Collins at the halftime buzzer to keep Prokom ahead 40-35 at the break.
Maciulis hit a three to start the third quarter, but after forcing Prokom into a 24-second violation, Zalgiris coach Grigas earned himself a technical foul and Van den Spiegel scored with a spin move to keep his side on top. However a Zukauskas jumper followed by another Maciulis three knotted the score at 43-43. Van den Spiegel made his presence felt and put Prokom back on top with a pair of free throws, but Popovic bettered him from beyond the arc to give Zalgiris its first lead of the night. A Harissis steal and layup-plus-foul turned the tide, but Collins came back with 2 free throws as the lead started to switch hands on nearly every possession. Back-to-back Collins baskets and 2 Brown free throws had Zalgiris suddenly up 5. A Popovic triple made it 50-57 before Stanojevic scored in the paint. Brown’s first three of the night followed by Popovic’s fourth capped a 3-15 charge that saw the visitors threaten to run away. Harissis hit a free throw to make it 53-63 heading into the fourth quarter.
Zalgiris remained hot as Brown fired in a jumper and a potentially pretty Van den Spiegel to Dylewicz move was cancelled for an offensive foul on the Prokom center. Still Dylewicz and Gurovic rifled in threes to get the hosts within 59-66. Then Dylewicz added free throws, but Collins ended the Zalgiris drought with free throws to put the visitors ahead 61-68 with six minutes remaining. Dylewicz continued a red-hot fourth quarter and Van den Spiegel converted on the offensive glass as the hosts cut the gap to 4. A Zalgiris timeout allowed the visiting team to reset and feed Zukauskas inside. Van den Spiegel free throws and a Mustafa Shakur basket in transition suddenly had Prokom within 70-72, however Marko Popovic time was just beginning. He drilled back-to-back three-pointers, then drew a foul and converted a free throw to put Zalgiris back in control. Slaninina protested, making 2 triples to get the hosts back within 78-79. Brown rescued Zalgiris with a three from the top of the key. Dylewicz corrected a Shakur miss with 30 seconds remaining to keep it close, but at the other end, Collins drew a foul from Shakur and netted 2 free throws to put Zalgiris up 80-84. Shakur drew a foul and went to the line with 9 seconds left, but missed both. Collins grabbed the rebound, was fouled and converted from the line to wrap up a big road win for Zalgiris.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007