On this day, two years ago, Zalgiris Kaunas hosted its first EuroLeague Playoff game since the turn of the century. Zalgiris did not have the homecourt advantage against Olympiacos Piraeus, but stole it with an overtime win in Game 1, 78-87. Needless to say, the anticipation was huge in basketball-crazy Lithuania and a sellout crowd of over 14,000 was on hand to support Zalgiris like never before against a very experienced Olympiacos squad.
Olympiacos leads early, Zalgiris answers
Olympiacos knew Game 3 was its best chance to win in Kaunas and thus started aggressively and got to the foul line often. Back-to-back baskets by Brian Roberts gave the Reds a 4-10 lead. Zalgiris found answers through its big men as Antanas Kavaliauskas and Paulius Jankunas brought the hosts within 13-14. Beno Udrih gave the hosts the lead, 21-19, after 10 minutes. Zalgiris, pushed by an incredible crowd, rolled early in the second quarter. Brandon Davies scored 5 straight points and Aaron White converted a three-point play during a 12-0 run that gave Zalgiris a 37-24 advantage. Zalgiris managed to boost its margin to 47-30 but Nikola Milutinov and Vangelis Mantzaris kept Olympiacos within 47-36 at halftime.
Zalgiris takes off, gets 2-1 lead
Olympiacos was not done, however, and tried to return to the game after the break. Vassilis Spanoulis closed the gap to 53-46 midway through the third quarter. Just when it looked like the game would be tight, Zalgiris showed its best version at both ends of the floor. Jankunas had 7 points in a 9-1 run at the end of which Davies gave the hosts a 64-48 margin. Axel Toupane struck from downtown to fix the score at 67-50 after 30 minutes. Little changed after that, as Zalgiris boosted its margin to 74-52 with 6 minutes left and its fans had plenty of time to celebrate a truly important win. Zalgiris ended up winning by 20 points (80-60). It was the worst playoff defeat for Olympiacos since 2008.
About the game
Davies led the winners with 18 points on 6-of-8 two-point shooting and 6-of-7 free throws for a performance index rating of 22. Jankunas added 13 points, Kevin Pangos had 12 and Toupane 10 for Zalgiris. Spanoulis paced Olympiacos with 14 points and Roberts added 11. Zalgiris made 24 of 33 two-point shots and its 72.7% percentage is the fifth-best mark in a playoff game since the format was reintroduced in 2005. Zalgiris outrebounded Olympiacos 33-27 and had almost twice as many assists (23) as its opponent (12). Olympiacos struggled on offense, making just 14 of 31 shots inside the arc (45.2%) and 4 of 22 from downtown (18.2%).
What happened next
Zalgiris downed Olympiacos 101-91 in Game 4, won the best-of-five series 1-3 and qualified to the EuroLeague Final Four for the first time since 1999. Davies was chosen as the EuroLeague MVP for April 2018. He led Zalgiris to the playoffs the following season, earning 2018-19 All-EuroLeague First Team honors. Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul stood in Zalgiris's way at the Final Four, winning 76-67 in the semifinals. Olympiacos missed the 2019 Playoffs, mainly because of a 68-72 home loss against Zalgiris in Round 29. Zalgiris rallied from a 12-point third-quarter deficit and survived a do-or-die situation at Peace and Friendship Stadium.