Fans of Zalgiris Kaunas were preparing for celebration when Edgaras Ulanovas scored a hook shot that set a double-digit lead, 88-78, with 3:32 remaining in Friday’s home game against AX Exchange Armani Milan. The home team seemed to have found its momentum at the right time, in a very contested game that had seen several runs and lead changes over the four quarters. But, as had happened before, Milan managed to come back again, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
It’s often said that the first plays of the extra period can define the type of game both teams are going to play from then on. And that’s probably what Lukas Lekavicius and Nigel Hayes had in mind when Zalgiris head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius put them onto the court at the beginning of overtime.
"I think there is no key [in overtime]. We found Nigel who had a mismatch, Lukas hit a huge three. In the end, this type of situation is anybody’s game and we are happy that the game went to us", said Jasikevicius after the game, acknowledging that both players had an important role in crunch time.
Lekavicius had not had a good night until that, remaining scoreless in regulation. But he stepped up strong by hitting that key three pointer to open fire in overtime, which he followed with a penetration that provided one more point from the foul line to give his team a 97-93 lead. Most importantly, those scores also provided his team with confidence for the remainder of the contest.
Hayes, on the other hand, had already given a terrific spurt between the first and the second quarters in which he scored 13 points in less than four minutes, before he then faded away in the last period which saw him play five minutes without recording anything other than a foul. In overtime, though, Hayes took over following Lekavicius’s opening salvo and remained ice cool when it mattered most: he went to the line four times in the last minute and didn’t tremble, scoring each time to seal the win when Milan threatened to make a comeback for the umpteenth time.
Hayes could also celebrate his best EuroLeague game so far, as he recorded career-highs in points and PIR. The American forward scored 21 points in 31 minutes, plus adding 4 rebounds and 5 fouls drawn, good for a PIR of 25. He was also perfect from behind the arc, hitting all three of his three-point attempts.
"I did a new shooting drill I saw from Micah Lancaster, sitting on a box and shooting, so I wanted to try that. I think it worked so I’m going to have to send him a message", he stated after the game.
Zalgiris as a team also set some new team highs, enjoying its best scoring game of the campaign with 105 points - it had earlier scored 104 against ALBA Berlin in Round 21 - and registering another high with a team-PIR of 133, giving its fans many reasons to keep celebrating and look ahead in the playoffs race.