Zalgiris downs Laboral to clinch Top 16 spot
Zalgiris Kaunas became the first team to make it to the Top 16 from Group C by trouncing Caja Laboral Vitoria 82-45 in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,310 fans at Zalgirio Arena on Friday. Zalgiris improved to 6-1 and remains atop the group. Laboral dropped to 1-6 and must been EA7 Emporio Armani Milan next week to keep its slim Top 16 chances alive. Zalgiris’s defensive effort resulted in Laboral’s lowest score ever in Euroleague history; its previous low was 52 points against AEK Athens on January 17, 2001. Marko Popovic paced the winners with 19 points, Darjus Lavrinovic and Mindaugas Kuzminskas each added 13 and Ibby Jaaber had 12 for Zalgiris. Fabien Causeur and Andres Nocioni led Laboral with 10 points apiece. Back-to-back triples by Nocioni kept Laboral within 9-8 midway through the first quarter. It didn't last long, as Zalgiris's second unit led the hosts to a 22-15 advantage after 10 minutes. An outstanding Popovic and great team defense helped Zalgiris to 43-24 at halftime. Nothing changed after the break, as Zalgiris kept a safe lead all the way until the final buzzer, giving their fans plenty of time to celebrate a historic win.
First quarter: Strong defense puts Zalgiris ahead
Jaaber got Zalgiris going with a one-handed jumper in the lane and Paulius Jankunas struck from downtown for a 5-0 lead. Laboral was held scoreless for more than two minutes until Maciej Lampe buried a five-meter shot. The guests entered the foul penalty early in the first quarter, forcing Coach Zan Tabak to change his strategy. Darjus Lavrinovic split free throws and a three-pointer by Nocioni brought Laboral within 6-5. Jaaber answered with his own triple, but Nocioni insisted from downtown for a 9-8 score. Darjus Lavrinovic ignited the crowd with a dunk-and-foul, as Zalgiris kept powering the offensive board. Causeur shined with a fast break basket, but Rimantas Kaukenas took over with a coast-to-coast layup and soon found Oliver Lafayette for a 16-10 lead, forcing Laboral to call timeout. Tibor Pleiss made free throws only to see Lafayette and Jeff Foote make it an 8-point game. Zalgiris kept excelling on defense while Mindaugas Kuzminskas scored down low for a 22-12 lead. Causeur nailed a corner triple to get to 22-15 after 10 minutes.
Second quarter: Popovic, Zalgiris soar
Kuzminskas scored off an inbound pass, but Pleiss banked in a mid-range shot and Fernando San Emeterio struck from downtown to bring Laboral within 24-20. Zalgiris struggled to score as the guests had improved their overall aggressiveness on defense. Zalgiris brought Vytenis Lipkevicius off the bench to guard San Emeterio in a three-guard lineup that also featured Marko Popovic and Lafayette. Popovic beat the shot clock buzzer with a five-meter jumper and a three-point play by Lafayette gave Zalgiris some fresh air at 29-20. Ksistof Lavrinovic split free throws, as Laboral could not find a go-to guy. Popovic nailed one from downtown to cap a 9-0 run, before Milko Bjelica stepped up with a baseline jumper. Popovic made free throws and a layup by Darjus Lavrinovic broke the game open, 37-22. Popovic buried another three-pointer before Pleiss dunked. A free throw by Jankunas followed by a baseline jumper by Foote fixed the halftime score at 43-24.
Third quarter: Hosts seal the outcome in style
Popovic nailed a rainbow jumper immediately after the break, as Laboral tried to use short possessions to speed up the game tempo. Lampe tried to change things with a close basket, which Darjus Lavrinovic bettered with a three-pointer for a 48-26 score. Taylor Rochestie split free throws and a running jumper by Jaaber gave Zalgiris a new highest margin, 50-27. Lampe made foul shots, which Popovic bettered with another shot from downtown. Tremmell Darden nailed a five-meter jumper. The hosts entered the foul penalty, allowing Laboral to attack the basket. Bjelica and Causeur made free throws, but Zalgiris did not panic. Causeur scored in penetration, as Laboral improved its ball circulation with Carlos Cabezas on the floor. Foote beat the shot clock with a layup and Darjus Lavrinovic added a mid-range jumper for a 59-33 score at the end of the third quarter.
Fourth quarter: Zalgiris crowd celebrates historic win
The outcome was clear, but Laboral did not give up, trying to improve its offense in the final 10 minutes. Causeur scored in transition, as Zalgiris kept using long possessions to run the game clock down. Laboral tried a more dynamic lineup with Nocioni at power forward. Cabezas hit free throws, but a three-pointer by Popovic brough the crowd to its feet at 62-37. Nocioni shined with a layup off a timeout and matched Darjus Lavrinovic's easy basket with free throws for a 64-41 deficit. Zalgiris kept playing with high intensity, as Jankunas and Popovic made free throws and Jaaber scored in penetration for a 68-41 lead. Jaaber struck from downtown and by the time Kuzminskas added a fast break layup, the Zalgiris fans were dancing in the stands and celebrating that their team will keep fighting for Euroleague glory!
Friday, November 23, 2012