Milan's defense holds off Zalgiris
AX Armani Exchange Milan protected its home court and continued on the winning path by holding off depleted Zalgiris Kaunas 65-58 on Friday night. The win improved Milan to 14-7 in third place in the standings, while Zalgiris dropped to 3-16, remaining in last place. Milan grabbed control of the game in the second quarter, took a 9-point lead into halftime and led by as many as 14 points in the third quarter. Zalgiris never went away, however, and got within 61-54 with 2:30 to play, but could not get closer than that. Devon Hall and Troy Daniels scored 12 apiece, and Sergio Rodriguez had 10 points in victory. Marek Blazevic and Lukas Lekavicius scored 13 apiece for the visitors, and Tyler Cavanaugh scored 10 for Zalgiris which was missing Josh Nebo, Paulius Jankunas and Janis Strelnieks.
Lekavicius opened the game with a triple and a floater, helping Zalgiris to 0-7, but Hall scored a layup in traffic, and after a corner triple from Cavanaugh, back-to-back threes from Malcolm Delaney and Daniels helped the hosts take 12-10 lead. Tai Webster and Daniels traded triples, then Daniels added his third from long range to open 18-15, but Regimantas Miniotas scored 5 points before the end of the quarter, including a corner three to tie it at 20-20 after 10 minutes. Rodriguez opened the second quarter with a pair of driving layups, then served a behind-a-back dish for Hines and a 26-23 lead. Lekavicius answered with a three-pointer, but Luigi Datome hit one from the outside and Hall muscled his way inside to open a 34-26 lead. Nicolo Melli's triple established an 11-point margin, and the hosts held 39-30 at the break.
Kaleb Tarczewski and Blazevic traded baskets inside to start the second half, before Lekavicius nailed a triple to cut to 41-35. But baskets were few and far between, with Hall's jumper being the only field goal in more than 3 minutes before Daniels knocked down his fourth triple and Hall's driving layup opened 48-36. Webster and Edgaras Ulanovas ended the Zalgiris drought with close range baskets, and after Rodriguez extended the lead to 14 points, Milaknis hit a triple that helped made it 54-45 at the end of the third quarter. Cavanaugh and Ben Bentil traded threes early in the fourth, and Milaknis hit one from the right corner to cut it to 59-51. Hines scored inside, but that was Milan's only basket in more than 6 minutes. Zalgiris also failed to score until a three-point play from Blazevic gave the visitors hope, cutting it to 61-54 with 2:30 to go, but Hall and Rodriguez sealed the deal with layups.
Defense pulls it out for Milan
Defense is what allowed Milan to win this game. The hosts allowed just 30 points in the first half, and 28 in the second. Milan stepped up defensively in the second quarter when it allowed just 10 points, then against in the third when Zalgiris was without a field goal for more than 5 minutes. This is the second consecutive game, and the fourth time this season, that Milan held its opponents below 60 points, and on this night Milan needed all of that. The 65 points Milan scored was the team's lowest in a victory in almost 10 years, since February 8, 2012 when Milan downed UNICS Kazan 63-58.
Milan center and four-time EuroLeague champ Kyle Hines was everywhere for his team, doing a bit of everything. Playing just below 25 minutes off the bench, Hines scored 6 points, making all 3 of his two-point attempts. He also pulled down 6 rebounds and dished 4 assists. And that was not the end of Hines’ effort, as he also picked up 2 steals and a block. The only negative in calculating his performance index rating was the 1 personal foul he committed. But Hines did draw four fouls, and finished the game with 22 PIR, his highest this season and tied for his best since joining Milan. His only other game with index rating 22 was last season's playoffs Game 5.
Taking care of the basketball
Milan entered Round 23 averaging a league-low 11.0 turnovers per game, and the team again really took good care of basketball in the first three quarters. Milan had only 2 turnovers in the first half, and 2 more in the third, which helped the team control the game. But Milan committed 6 more turnovers in the fourth, which helped Zalgiris stay in the game and make it interesting until the penultimate minute. So Milan finished with 10 turnovers, and compared to 14 by Zalgiris, it was just what made the difference on this night. It also made this the tenth time this season that Milan had 10 or fewer turnovers – and interestingly, only the second time during this current seven-game stretch during which Milan has registered six wins.
Friday, January 28, 2022