Walter Tavares wasted no time in stating his intentions on Friday night. Real Madrid’s giant big man started strong in his team’s testing trip to Zalgiris Kaunas, hooking up with point guard Facundo Campazzo to score the opening basket of the game in the very first possession, and then receiving another Campazzo pass to convert again the next time Real got the ball.
At that point, Zalgiris already knew exactly how tough it would be to stop Tavares, and the message continued to be hammered home over the next few minutes as Tavares dominated the paint to grab 5 rebounds in the first 6 minutes. But then came the bad news for Real, as their center picked up his second foul and had to be replaced. Almost from that moment onwards Zalgiris was able to settle into its offensive rhythm as well as finally stopping Real at the other end, turning an 11-18 deficit when Tavares headed to the bench into a 54-48 lead at the interval.
Visiting coach Pablo Laso reintroduced Tavares at the start of the second half, and again he was quick off the mark by grabbing an offensive rebound from Anthony Randolph’s miss and scoring Real’s first basket of the third quarter. Tavares then picked up his third foul, but Coach Laso understood his center’s importance to the physical battle inside and decided to leave him in the game – a show of trust that Tavares rewarded by staying out of foul trouble for the remainder of the third period while adding another 8 points to his tally.
Tavares was then rested by Laso for a few minutes, before being reintroduced with the game on the line midway through the final period, with Zalgiris leading 82-78. And the repeated impression that the home team just couldn’t find any way of stopping the opposing big man was emphasised inside the final couple of minutes when he scored three consecutive baskets in the space of 80 seconds, including a big alley-oop connection with Sergio Llull, single-handedly transforming the scoreline from 86-81 to 86-87. That burst gave Real a lead they would never lose, but Tavares still wasn’t finished: with 41 seconds remaining, Llull missed a three-point attempt but Tavares was in place to grab his 6th offensive rebound, draw a foul and calmly convert both free throws.
His outstanding final numbers were a career high 22 points scored on 9-of-9 two-point attempts converted, plus 4-of-5 free throw attempts, along with 6 offensive rebounds and 6 defensive boards, 1 assist and 4 fouls drawn for a personal best PIR of 34. Even more notably, that was all achieved in only 21 minutes on the floor due to his early foul trouble, and Zalgiris will just be pleased they don’t have to see Tavares again until the teams meet in Madrid in February.