What a difference 48 hours make. Zalgiris Kaunas held on to stun previously unbeaten at home Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul Thursday night. Its 80-82 road win against the best regular-season team tied at 1-1 their best-of-five series that looked like it could go only one way earlier this week.
After a historically futile offensive performance and scoring a club-record low just 43 points in Game 1, Zalgiris's coach and players were stressing they needed to be more physical. They had some open looks they missed, but they committed 23 turnovers and made just 34% of their field goal attempts in the series opener.
Well, Game 2 offered a completely different story. From the get-go, Zalgiris found ways to make uncontested close-range baskets, then established much-needed balance by sinking three-point shots. It all resulted in Zalgiris needing less than 18 minutes to surpass that Game 1 point total and scoring 46 in the first half alone.
While Zalgiris finished by making 70.6% of its two-pointers, including a hard-to-believe 10-for-10 in the third quarter, the big difference-maker was Edgaras Ulanovas. On the defensive end, he displayed his usual toughness battling against Luigi Datome, Marko Guduric or Nikola Kalinic, but he made a huge offensive contribution, too. Ulanovas was everywhere. If he was not using mismatches in the low post or backdoor cuts to get to the basket, he was scoring after offensive rebounds or penetrating to dish it to big men for easy dunks.
All of that looked as it might be in vain after Fenerbahce rallied from a second-half 17-point deficit to tie the game in the final minute, but Ulanovas cemented his hero status by beating the shot-clock in traffic with 24 seconds to go for what turned out to be the game-winning basket, too.
He scored the only 2 Zalgiris field goals in the fourth quarter and after posting just 4 points and 4 rebounds in 25 minutes on Tuesday, Ulanovas starred with a game-high 20 points on 9-of-10 two-point shooting, plus 7 rebounds and 2 assists in this victory.
Zalgiris stole home-court advantage for the second season in a row, and that would not have been possible without the grit, toughness and some clutch scoring from Ulanovas.