CSKA Moscow practically clinched first place in Group A and first-level seeding for the Top 16 when it crushed host Zalgiris Kaunas 60-88 on Thursday to end the latter's five-game winning streak. CSKA, the first road winner in Kaunas this season, lifted its record to 10-2 and will finish first in the group with another win or any loss by Tau Ceramica. Zalgiris, already qualified for the Top 16, fell to 7-5 and a share of either fourth or fifth place. Despite injury problems, CSKA ruled the whole way, taking its first double-digit lead in the first quarter and guarding it the rest of the way. A trio of stars paced the winners, with Ramunas Siskauskas scoring 20 points, Trajan Langdon 19 and David Andersen 18 plus 9 rebounds. Among them, they buried 11 of 14 three-point shots, too. CSKA's defense held Marcus Brown, the December MVP who received his award before the game, to just 5 points. DeJuan Collins led Zalgiris with 16 points. Mantas Kalnietis came off the bench for 11, while Marko Popovic and Goran Jurak scored 10 each.
CSKA set the tone early as Langdon drilled a three-pointer and added a shorter jump shot for a quick 0-5 score. Eurelijus Zukauskas put Zalgiris on the board with a free throw, and helped anchor a defense that kept CSKA scoreless for awhile until Siskauskas hit his first basket. Langdon continued bombing from outside the arc, extending CSKA's margin to 7-12. Zalgiris turned to Collins, whose jumper off the dribble and triple strike to cut the difference to 14-15. But then the Zalgiris defense allowed Theodoros Papaloukas to drive and dunk before Siskauskas hit a three-pointer from the top. When David Anderson made back-to-back baskets in the paint, his team had its first double-digit lead on the way to a 16-26 advantage after 10 minutes.
Zalgiris started the second quarter with sticky one-on-one defense that forced CSKA to turn the ball over as both teams struggled on offense. Paulius Jankunas ended almost 2 scoreless minutes for the hosts, but his points did not prove a breakthrough yet. CSKA answered with a fastbreak and layup by Marcus Goree before Zalgiris got rhythm back as Jurak drilled a triple to shrink the margin to 23-28. Langdon drove to the basket for layup but Collins struck back from downtown. It was wake up call for the guests, who responded with 0-4 run on a drive by Siskauskas and a difficult jumper by Jon Robert Holden. Popovic penetrated and despite tight defense somehow put the ball into the basket but it was almost the last basket for Zalgiris in the second quarter. Anderson drove baseline and Siskauskas silenced the crowd with a three-pointer. Zalgiris couldn't found ways around the strengthened CSKA defense while on the other end, the visitors continued an offensive show in which Langdon nailed another triple that capped a 0-12 run. Popovic hit an extra long bomb from the outside the arc but the halftime whistle nonetheless fixed a solid 30-46 lead for CSKA.
Siskauskas opened second half with acrobatic mid-range jumper to which Holden added three-pointer from the right wing but Collins matched him twice on the other end. The triples shootout continued as Anderson made one more from deep that Dainius Salenga copied. Holden demoralized the hosts with nice penetration that pushed CSKA ahead by 20 points at 39-59. Kalnietis came in and energized the Zalgiris offense, but it didn’t help his team to improve its poor defense as Anderson scored a jumper and Holden a layup. Zalgiris head coach Rimantas Grigas needed a time out. Zalgiris returned back to the game more relaxed as Kalnietis drilled a triple and Jurak added a difficult semihook. Jankunas tried to hit fade away jumper but Goree jumped high enough to block his shot. Last possession belonged to CSKA and Siskauskas made it pay with an open three-pointer from the corner that restored a 20-point lead to the visitors, 46-66.
Both teams exchanged turnovers to start the final quarter before Langdon hit another triple and Popovic matched him on the other side. Poor defense by Zalgiris let Anderson score an easy put-back basket while the hosts searched for weapons on offense. Red-hot Langdon knocked down one more three-pointer to extend CSKA's lead lead to 49-74. Nikos Zisis made a jumper from the high post before Jankunas drove inside for an extra-difficult left-handed jump hook. Jankunas, however, made a hard contact while defending Anderson and left the court with bruised face. Kalnietis seemed the only one who remained fresh in the Zalgiris lineup as he penetrated for a basket, scored in the fastbreak and hit a jumper. However, it was way too late for a comeback and Zalgiris suffered its first bitter defeat in Hale Arena, 60-88.
Thursday, January 17, 2008