Zalgiris rallies to conquer Piraeus, again
Facing a must-win situation in one of the toughest road venues on the continent, Zalgiris Kaunas came back from a 12-point third-quarter deficit to edge and sweep Olympiacos Piraeus 68-72 at Peace and Friendship Stadium on Friday night. Both teams enter the final round of the regular season with 14-15 records, but a sweep gives Zalgiris the edge over Olympiacos in a very tight playoff race. Olympiacos pulled out to a 51-39 lead in the third quarter, but Zalgiris made a 0-14 run bridging the third and fourth quarters and prevailed in a dramatic finish. Aaron White paced the winners with 14 points, Brandon Davies collected 13 points and 7 rebounds, while Leo Westermann netted 11 for Zalgiris. Briante Weber led the hosts with 26 points, while Nikola Milutinov amassed 18 points plus 12 rebounds in a losing effort.
Three-pointers from Kostas Papanikolaou, Vangelis Mantzaris and Weber gave Olympiacos 13-6 lead early. Zalgiris went inside nearly on every possession, and cut into the deficit through White and a pair of dunks from Davies. A runner from Marius Grigonis made it 18-16 at the end of the first quarter, before triples from Arturas Milaknis and Westermann at the start of the second gave the Zalgiris its first lead, and put it up 18-24. But the hosts charged back, as a jumper and a transition three-pointer by Weber helped them re-take the lead, before Milutinov strung together 7 points to put Olympiacos up 36-28. The hosts went into half-time leading 38-34, then used stiff defense and 6 points from Weber to increase the margin to 51-39. However, the visitors scored the final 9 points of the quarter, as a Milaknis triple made it 51-48 going into the fourth quarter before Milaknis nailed another three, and Nate Wolters made a fastbreak floater to give Zalgiris a 51-53 edge. Weber snapped a 0-14 run, but White from long range and Davies twice inside made it 57-62 with exactly 5 minutes left. Weber fueled a 6-0 run to restore Olympiacos’s lead, but a tip-in by Deon Thompson and a floater by Westermann made it 65-68 with 75 seconds to go. In the final minute, Zalgiris made a pair of defensive stands, then ran out the clock before Marius Grigonis twice made a pair of free throws in the final 6.5 seconds to cling onto a huge victory.
This was the fifth consecutive win for Zalgiris, allowing the Lithuanian powerhouse to keep its playoffs dreams alive. A road win over Real Madrid next week would probably secure Zalgiris a playoff berth for the second year in a row, although a two-way tie with Milan would favour the Italian team.
Zalgiris has now won six of its last seven games against Olympiacos, and three of the last four in Piraeus, including Game 1 of last year’s playoffs.
Olympiacos took a 51-39 lead with 3:33 left in the third quarter, but the visitors did not allow another basket for the remainder of the third, or the opening 2:30 of the fourth quarter. A 0-14 run during a 6-minute span put Zalgiris back in front.
EuroLeague rookie Marius Grigonis has now made 54 consecutive free throws, and none were bigger than going 4-for-4 in the final 6.5 seconds of the game.
In the last round, Zalgiris will visit Real Madrid on Thursday and try to get its first road win against Madrid this century. The following day Olympiacos will host Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul, looking for a win and still hoping to make it into the playoffs.
Friday, March 29, 2019