Zalgiris Kaunas is on a roll as it battles to make its third consecutive playoff appearance. After a rough start to the season – Zalgiris was tied for the worst record in the competition as recently as after Round 21, the Lithuanian champs are flying high and following Tuesday's results have climbed into eighth place with a 12-15 record.
The Zalgiris that has now won six of its last seven games is playing a little different than at any other point in the season. Coach Sarunas Jasikevicus's side has scored at least 90 points in four of their last five and six of their last eight games, including Tuesday's 96-85 victory over Khimki Moscow Region. To score that many points, one needs many offensive weapons. Zalgiris not only showed it has many, but it has several dangerous ones coming off the bench who keep the pressure on the opponents for all 40 minutes.
Against Khimki, Coach Jasikevicus only gave four players significant minutes off the bench and they played major roles. K.C. Rivers, Lukas Lekavicius, Nigel Hayes and Zach LeDay combined for 60 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 85 combined minutes. Khimki's reserves posted 6 points, 7 boards and 4 assists in 44 minutes.
LeDay led the way with 23 points; he made 7 of 10 two-pointers and 2 of 3 three-pointers. Rivers scored 15 on 5-of-8 three-point shooting. Lekavicus added 14 with just a single missed shot. And Hayes compiled 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
It was more than just their numbers, it was timing. Lekavicius, LeDay and Hayes all scored in a 9-0 run to finish the first quarter with a 29-15 advantage. LeDay, Hayes and Rivers di all the work at the start of the second quarter in stretching that lead to 20 points. And late in the game, Rivers drilled 4 fourth-quarter three-pointers to dampen Khimki's comeback hopes. LeDay scored 8 in the fourth quarter to help secure the tiebreak advantage over Khimki too. The four reserves combined for 25 of Zalgiris's 32 fourth-quarter points.
With the reserves leading the way, Zalgiris made 71.9% of its two-pointers, which was a season-high and fifth-best in club history. The hosts also made half of their 28 attempts from downtown. Naturally, with so many shots going in, there were a lot of assists; Zalgiris tied its club record with 29 assists. It was the third time – and second this season – that the club reached that number. Even more impressive was that it did so with just 9 turnovers.
Zalgiris is a team that puts an emphasis on defense first, but it has recently shown that it has the firepower to outscore teams. And with such power coming off the bench, opponents know they will have to work hard for all 40 minutes to bring the Zalgiris scoring numbers down.