Milan takes charge late to beat Zalgiris
AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan overpowered Zalgiris Kaunas down the stretch to claim an 80-70 victory on Thursday night at Mediolanum Forum. Zalgiris led 57-58 with 6 and a half minutes remaining, but back-to-back three-pointers by Dairis Bertans and Mindaugas Kuzminskas gave Milan the lead for good and Mike James scored 9 points and dished 2 assists in the final 5 minutes to lead Milan to victory. The result took Milan's record to 9-11, which could have it back inside the playoff zone depending on Friday night's outcomes. Zalgiris slipped to 8-12 with the loss. James finished with 20 points, 9 assists and 4 steals to pace the winners. Bertans and Vladimir Micov added 17 points apiece and Kuzminskas made 4 of 5 threes for 14 points in 16 minutes off the bench. Nate Wolters produced 17 points and 5 assists for Zalgiris, Paulius Jankunas scored 14, Brandon Davies 13 and Marius Grigonus 10.
Bertans struck from downtown on each of Milan's first two possessions, but Davies kept the visitors close. Wolters was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul on Bertans on a fast break and the ensuing free throws were followed by a Micov triple. James's first shot was a successful three-pointer that capped a 10-0 run and gave Milan an 18-8 advantage. Jankunas snapped the Zalgiris dry spell with a jumper. James and Edgaras Ulanovas traded triples to end the first quarter at 21-13. Davies and Wolters chipped away at the Zalgiris deficit and Arturas Milaknis struck from behind the arc to make it 26-22, after which the hosts called timeout. Kuzminskas nailed a triple at the other end, but soon Davies stepped up with a basket on one end before drawing Arturas Gudaitis's third foul at the other. The margin remained in the 4-6 range for the rest of the half, with Wolters bringing the Lithuanian champs within 34-30 at the break. Bertans opened the second half like he did the first – with a three-pointer, however, Zalgiris stayed close and Davies narrowed the gap to 41-37. Jankunas sank a jumper and netted a pair of free throws to bring the visitors within 46-45. Micov scored twice to keep the hosts in front, but another Jankunas jumper made it 52-50 at the end of the quarter. Grigonus and Wolters connected on back-to-back threes early in the fourth quarter to give Zalgiris its first lead, 54-56. The lead changed hands with each of the game's next three scores before back-to-back threes by Bertans and Kuzminskas gave Milan a little breathing room at 63-58 and soon James heated up to extend the margin to 6. Kuzminskas dunked and then sank a triple to put Milan ahead by 9 with 2 minutes remaining. Micov banked in a shot that made it 76-67 with a minute to go and Zalgiris never threatened again.
Kuzminskas burns former team
Milan did not get many points from its second string in this game, but the major weapon off the bench was a player who knows Zalgiris well. Mindaugas Kuzminskas burned his former club to the tune of 14 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes. He shot 4 for 5 from behind the arc to help Milan secure the win.
With the final outcome seemingly out of reach for Zalgiris, the visitors continued to challenge late in hope of trimming the gap to less than 5, which was its winning margin when the teams played in Lithuania earlier in the season. Dairis Bertans was called for an unsportsmanlike foul with Milan up 76-67 with 19 seconds left. Marius Grigonis sank 2 free throws, but Nate Wolters committed an unsportsmanlike foul on the resulting possession and Milan managed to hold on to the needed margin until the final buzzer.
Zalgiris will be back on the road next week with a trip to Russia to face Khimki Moscow Region on Thursday. Milan also heads on a road trip. The Italian champs visit Herbalife Gran Canaria on Friday.
Thursday, January 24, 2019