Zalgiris climbed all the way back from an 18-point deficit to take its first victory in Group A on Thursday by 82-72 over visiting Prokom Trefl Sopot before a capacity crowd of 5,000 in Kaunas, Lithuania. Zalgiris evened its record at 1-1 while Prokom dropped to 2-0. Zalgiris turned a 13-31 deficit late in the first quarter into a lead by the middle of the third that it nursed through a close finish to the victory. Jonas Maciulis led the winners with 17 points. Marko Popovic followed with 15, including key free throws down the stretch, while DeJuan Collins had 13 points and 5 assists, Paulius Jankunas 12 points. For Prokom, there were co-leading scorers in Travis Best and Milan Gurovic, each with 20 points. Donatas Slanina was the only other double-figure scorer for the guests, with 14 points. Prokom's trouble on the boards, where it was outrebounded 39-28 overall, proved decisive, especially at the finish, when Zalgiris took several of its 16 offensive rebounds to deny the visitors possession. Behind shooting sprees by Best and Gurovic, Prokom had controlled the game in the early going, but an 11-0 run led by Mantas Kalnietis late in the second quarter got Zalgiris back in the game. Maciulis and Jankunas hit three-pointers as Zalgiris completed a third-quarter takeover of the scoreboard, but until the end, when Gurovic tied it at 67-67 and later got Prokom within 74-71 with a triple, the outcome was unclear. Offensive rebounds and Popovic on the line settled matters for Zalgiris.
A fully-packed Sporto Hale welcomed Zalgiris for its 2007-08 Euroleague home debut, but it was Prokom’s Best who opened the scoring with a three-point play to which Gurovic soon added 2 free throws. The Zalgiris defense watched Best down a long to make it 0-7, but that seemed a wake-up call for the hosts, who answered with 6-0 run on jumpers by Maciulis and Collins followed by Marcus Brown's. On defense, Zalgiris continued to suffer, however, as Gurovic posted a triple and Slanina a put-back to make it 7-15 and force the home team to call time out. Zalgiris center Eurelius Zukauskas came on-court then and scored from the low post before blocking a shot on the other side, but Slanina answered with back-to-back bombs from the downtown that converted the Prokom lead to double digits at 10-21. It got worse from there for the hosts, who could not find the basket on their own court as well as Prokom could. Gurovic got free for another jumper and Best added a layup as the Prokom lead ballooned to 13-31. Only Goran Jurak's triple on the buzzer helped Zalgiris, but the end-of-quarter score still read 16-31 in Prokom's favor.
Maciulis tried to spark Zalgiris in the second quarter with a fastbreak layup assisted by Marco Popovic, but Best matched it. Zalgiris had no remedy against red-hot Best, who made another layup. Jurak’s putback basket reduced margin to 22-35 but Prokom answered with a pair of easy baskets against the lax Zalgiris defense. Mantas Kalnietis decided to step up for Zalgiris, and did so with triple that came with a free throw, but he missed it. Zalgiris needed 3 offensive rebounds on one possession before Jankunas nailed long-awaited three-pointer that cut the deficit to 30-41 and prompted a Prokom timeout. Kalnietis remained hot with a free throw and a brilliant fastbreak assist to Jankunas to highlight a 11-0 run that got the hosts back in the game at 35-42 after one half.
Maciulis opened the second half with a long three-pointer but Best answered with a jumper from the high post. Maciulis remained hot as he made a free throw, added basket on a fastbreak and dished to Collins on another fastbreak for what became 2 free throws that got Zalgiris within a single point, 43-44. Prokom tried to change the situation from outside the arc but both Best and Gurovic found nothing but the rim. On the other side, the shots kept falling as Jankunas launched the downtown strike that gave Zalgiris its first lead of the game, 46-44. The veterans jumped on the bandwagon then, with Tanoka Beard scoring inside and Brown downing a difficult turnaround jumper. Slanina created his own shot off the dribble for points, but Zalgiris found sharpshooter Popovic wide open outside the arc and he took the opportunity for a triple that left the hosts in control at 56-50 after 30 minutes.
Prokom showed it still meant business as Christos Harissis hit a jumper and Best a triple to start the final quarter. Zalgiris answered with impressive individual play by Popovic, who buried his own bomb from the outside on the very next possession. Ruben Wolkowysky nailed a triple for Prokom before Beard boxed out inside for an easy layup. Best kept living up to his name with another long jumper. Wolkowysky made a high post jumper and Gurovic capped Prokom's rally with 3 free throws for a 67-67 tie. Zalgiris played pick-’n’-roll for Collins, who made a nice jumper. Zalgiris then executed the play that left Maciulis open for the three-pointer that extended the gap to 72-67. Gurovic nailed his final triple that was followed with a free throw by Slanina to cut the difference to 74-71. After Maciulis fouled out, however, Prokom couldn't tie. That's when Popovic made a pair crucial free throws while Best traveled at the other end. That was all for visitors and Zalgiris made sure at the foul line of its first Euroleague victory this season.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007