Laboral Kutxa soars behind big men Nocioni, Bjelica
He signed on Monday, joined his old team on the road Tuesday, and on Wednesday, they played another of his former teams. To say Milko Bjelica was ready is an understatement. He came off the bench for 9 second-half points as banged-up Caja Laboral Kutxa steam-rolled Lietuvos Rytas 64-85 in Vilnius to raised its Group D record to 2-1. Rytas fell to 1-2. Andres Nocioni was Laboral's leader with a capital L, to the tune of 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals in 35 minutes. But the missing links for Laboral were Bjelica, who finished with 16 points in 13 minutes, and another just-signed former Rytas player, Rimantas Kaukenas, who started and scored 10 points. Matching his scoring were Walter Hodge, David Jelenik and Leo Mainoldi, playing his first game after injury. Martynas Gecevicius had 14 points for Rytas, while Darius Songaila added 10 and Omar Cook had a double-double of 13 points, 10 assists. After five ties and nine lead changes before halftime, when it led 41-45, Laboral used a wave of pure hustle to take the upper hand with a team-wide defensive effort held Rytas to 23 points after the break.
First quarter: Nine lead changes leave Laboral ahead
Rytas went inside to Darius Songaila and Laboral to Tibor Pleiss to open the scoring. Free throws by Nocioni and a drive by Hodge had Laboral ahead before Gecevicius hit the game's first triple. Then Kaukenas dropped his first shot against his old team in his hometown, although Steponas Babrauskas put Rytas right back in front from the free throw line, 9-8. Songaila's third shot and Nocioni's reverse gave way to a triple by Cook to put Rytas up 14-10. Kaukenas got a jumper back for Laboral but also committed his second foul and had to sit. Nocioni got open for a transition, go-ahead triple for Laboral, only to see Juan Palacios take the lead back with a layup. When Hodge rained a three and Jelenik went coast to coast, however, the visitors were up 16-19. Palacios again seized the advantage right back for Rytas with consecutive baskets that Jelenik answered with his own go-ahead jumper, the ninth and last lead change in the quarter. When Hodge and Leo Mainoldi added last-minute baskets, the visitors suddenly had their biggest margin yet, 20-25, after 10 minutes.
Second quarter: Bjelica appears, Nocioni rules
Milenko Tepic opened the second-quarter scoring for Rytas, but neither team could control the ball for a minute after that. Then, after a huge block by Nocioni, scoring broke loose again with Eimantas Bendzius finishing a break, Gedminas Orelik driving, Mainoldi hitting a triple and Pleiss scoring while falling backward to make it 30-32, Laboral still leading. Everyone was hitting shots, with Bjelica introducing himself from the arc. But when Gecevicius matched him and Palacios broke loose for another fastbreak, there was a 35-35 tie. Bjelica broke it with a driving layup and added another dancing basket in the post. Laboral's other newcomer, Kaukenas, added a running one-hander that Gecevicius answered with three-pointer before Songaila spun in the lane to tie it again, 41-41. Nocioni took charge with a layup and 2 free throws in the final minute as Laboral hit the locker room ahead 41-45.
Third quarter: Offensive rebounds get Laboral hustle points
Songaila's fastbreak on an assist from Palacios started the third-quarter scoring. Hodge answered with an open jumper and Nocioni got to the foul line for 2 more points on a third-chance possession as Laboral stayed up 39-43, by then the game's biggest lead. Cook got a jumper back for Rytas, but consecutive offensive rebounds put Kaukenas on the line for 2 points. Cook's free throws were met by a rainbow corner triple from Jelenik. Renaldas Seibutis cut into that with his first 2 points on shorter jumper. Laboral's fifth offensive rebound of the quarter, by Bjelica, led to his three-pointer and a new high lead, 49-57, forcing a Rytas timeout. Gecevicius came out and hit a jumper and a triple around one from the opposite corner by Jelenik, and when Nocioni stepped up to finish the quarter with 2 free throws, Laboral was solidly ahead again, 54-62.
Fourth quarter: End comes early, courtesy of Bjelica
Bjelica drove from the three-point line for the first double-digit lead, 54-64, to open the fourth quarter. When he then popped a jumper and went back door for a dunk assisted by Nocioni, Siemens Arena was silent except for the cheers echoing all the way from Vitoria. After almost 7 minutes in which Bjelica had 9 points and no one from Rytas except Gecevicius had scored, a triple by Cook broke the spell. But Mainoldi simply answered from the arc and then finished off a behind-the-back pass from Hodge to break the game open at 57-73 with under 5 minutes left. Frustration set in for Rytas as the misses piled up while Kaukenas made a layup and Pleiss free throws worth a 20-point lead, a victory for Laboral and some searching for answers in Vilnius.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013