With Zenit St Petersburg coming to Athens without reserve big man Alex Poythress and facing one of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague's best young centers, Georgios Papagiannis, the visitors knew they were going to need a strong showing from starting center Arturas Gudaitis. The Lithuanian responded with one of the best games of his career to lead Zenit to a 77-89 victory over Panathinaikos at OAKA.
Gudaitis made his impact from the very start. He blocked a shot on Panathinaikos's first possession before dunking for Zenit's first points. He added a hook shot over Papagiannis as Zenit started to pull away and later scored the first of his four three-point plays as the visitors grabbed a 16-26 lead after 10 minutes. By halftime, Gudaitis was up to 15 points.
In the third quarter, Gudaitis made it a game that he won't soon forget. His second and-one of the quarter gave him exactly 1,000 career EuroLeague points and 20 on the night. When he made the resulting free throw moments later, Gudaitis had set a new career-high in scoring.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Gudaitis had amassed 25 points. He made 10 of 13 shots – including three dunks – and 5 of 6 free throws to reach that number. Gudaitis had twice before reached 20 points when he played for AX Armani Exchange Milan – once in October 2017 versus Real Madrid and again in December 2018 against Panathinaikos.
The modest big man had little to say to the cameras after the game and was even a little critical of himself: "I must be more consistent like I've said before in some interviews. So I am happy today that I could help the team like this," Gudaitis told EuroLeague TV.
Gudaitis not only helped Zenit claim another road win with his scoring, but he helped make up for Poythress's absence by playing a season-high 26:12 minutes – nearly 8 minutes more than his season average. It was the eighth-most he had ever played in his EuroLeague career, which extends over 111 games in seven seasons with three clubs: Zalgiris Kaunas, Milan and Zenit.
Two years ago, Gudaitis was making his case as an All-EuroLeague player with 12.5 points on 63.9% shooting, 7.1 rebounds and 1 block per game for Milan. It came to a sudden when he suffered a torn ACL in February 2019 and despite Gudaitis's return less than a year later, he was not back to his pre-injury self with Milan last season.
Since he has put on a Zenit uniform, Gudaitis is showing flashes of his best days and Panathinaikos felt it on Thursday. If he can find the consistency to dominate the paint like this, the rest of the league will have a big problem to solve.