Olympiacos climbed to the top of Group D when it downed visiting Zalgiris Kaunas 78-69 at home on Thursday in front of a sellout crowd of 11,154 fans at Peace and Friendship Stadium in Piraeus. Olympiacos, undefeated in two home games, joins Winterthur FCB Barcelona in first place with identical 2-0 records. Zalgiris dropped to 0-2 and will need to start winning right away to keep its quarterfinals chances alive. In a breakout performance against one of the Euroleague's top opposing frontcourts, Sofoklis Schortsianitis led the winners with 25 points on 10-for-12 shooting. The Euroleague MVP for February, point guard Tyus Edney, added 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists for Olympiacos. Paulius Jankunas led all Zalgiris scorers with 15 points and added 11 rebounds for a double-double. Simonas Serapinas and Darjus Lavrinovic each had 13 points for the guests, who led 36-39 early in the third quarter. Schortsianitis had 8 quick points to put Olympiacos in charge, 54-49, after 30 minutes. Schortsianitis then added 12 points, including 4 dunks, in the final 7 minutes of the game to lead the Reds to a well-deserved win.
n front of a packed house at Peace and Frienship Stadium, Zalgiris jumped out to a good start thanks to good passing in the paint. Back-to-back dunks by Darjus Lavrinovic let the guests burst in front 4-8 after 4 minutes. Vassilopoulos ended the drought for Olympiacos, scoring on a layup and a free throw, but Zalgiris was still in the driver's seat at 7-10, forcing a timeout by the hosts. The guests continued their momentum, as Olympiacos could not hit open shots from the perimeter nor score inside with its big men. On came recently-signed guard Ivan Kojlevic to score on a drive, however, and Quincy Lewis followed with a jumper to pull the Reds within 11-13 and bring the crowd to its feet. Zalgiris made them sit again, however, as three-point bombs by Simonas Serapinas and Paulius Jankunas finished the quarter with the visitors in full charge again at 11-23.
But the Reds were ready to react. Vassilopoulos opened the second quarter with a triple that ignited a 13-2 run that Renaldas Seibutis capped with a free throw. Seibutis had 6 points during that three-minute spurt that allowed Olympiacos to trim the deficit to 24-25. A couple of possessions later, Vassilopoulos scored on an offensive rebound to give his team its first lead of the game, 28-27. He then put his stamp on the defensive end by rejecting Tanoka Beard's shot. The Olympiacos defense was stellar as Zalgiris had scored only 5 points in the first 7 minutes of the quarter. Full of confidence from that defense, Schortsianitis worked on Beard and scored in the paint, while veteran Kenny Anderson responded with 4 points for Zalgiris to make it 34-32. Then, it was Schortsanitis again who capitalized on the fact that Beard had three fouls and rose up for a two-handed dunk. The momentum had shifted but the game was on fire as Reggie Freeman scored for Zalgiris on a follow shot at the buzzer to make it a one-point game at intermission, 36-35.
As the second half commenced, Zalgiris looked more determined and early on flashed some of its trademark defense, keeping Olympiacos scoreless for 3 minutes Freeman restored a 36-39 advantage for the guests but finally Edney loaded his gun and nailed consecutive long-range jumpers to put the Reds in front again, 40-39. Schortsanitis was given the ball inside, and he used his strength to add 4 points. Zalgiris coach Antanas Sireika brought back Beard, but Schortsianitis was virtually unstoppable and on the next possession knocked down a thunderous dunk to make it 46-43. Beard split a pair of free throws but was shadowed by Schortsanitis, who dunked once again. Serapinas nailed a triple and asked for a foul, but was a given a technical instead. Nikos Hatzis converted those free throws for and then punished the Zalgiris zone from downtown as Schortsanitis swatted a last shot by Beard to preserve a 54-49 Olympiacos advantage after 30 minutes.
At the outset of the final period, Edney scored on a jumper and then stole the ball and drew a flagrant foul, but missed both free throws. The home team's defense took care of business, holding Zalgiris without a point for 3 minutes until a dunk on the break by Schortsianitis supplied a double-digit lead at 59-49. After a timeout, Lavrinovic scored on a baseline jumper, but Schortsanitis - who else? - converted a monstrous three-point play and extended the advantage to 62-51 with 5 minutes left. Olympiacos was going full steam, now, but Zalgiris kept its composure and used free throws cut the deficit to 65-57 with 4 minutes to go. Then, Maciulis came up big and knocked down a decisive three-pointer. The guests were now clawing their way back, but Schortsanitis scored with a slippery move in the paint and widened the gap to 69-60. Zalgiris found a go-to guy in Serapinas who scored a jumper and a triple to make it 69-65, but there was already a go-to guy for the hosts. Schortsanitis was given the ball again, and with another three-point play emphatically showed who was in charge. Next, Manolis Papamakarios flashed his way to the basket to make it 76-66. Schortsanitis finished it, appropriately enough, with another dunk, as Olympiacos stayed undefeated a third of the way through the Top 16.
Thursday, March 2, 2006