With season on the line, Kalnietis stepped up

Mar 26, 2021 by Eurocupbasketball.com Print
With season on the line, Kalnietis stepped up

For most of the game, he was the oldest player on the court. And as if out to not only lead his team to victory in a do-or-die situation, but to prove how important experience in such games is, Mantas Kalnietis turned in a career performance on Thursday night in Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar's 86-74 victory over UNICS Kazan. The win evened the team's best-of-three 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals at 1-1 and forced a Game 3 to be played on Wednesday, March 31, in Kazan, Russia.

To say that Kalnietis turned back the clock would be unfair; after all, the former EuroCup champion leads the competition in assists this season and Thursday's 10-assist performance marked his sixth double-digit assist game this season. It was also his third double-double of the campaign. But what stood out was his scoring. Kalnietis racked up a career-high 23 points and he did much of his damage early to set the tone.

Kalnietis tallied 8 points and 3 assists in the second quarter when Lokomotiv outscored UNICS 26-11 to take control of the game. He led a decisive 12-0 run with 6 points and an assist – including a three-point play that gave Lokomotiv its first double-digit cushion.

That came after he posted 7 points and 3 assists in the first 10 minutes. Among his 6 points and 3 assists in the third was a steal and slam that further dejected struggling UNICS. All of this is to say, Kalnietis did not pad the stat line with late free throws (though he did make 2 in the final minute) or garbage-time points, he took the game by the horns and carried Lokomotiv to a season-extending victory.

At age 34, Kalnietis was the oldest player in the game, aside from the 6:15 minutes when UNICS played guard Evgeny Kolesnikov, who is a year older. Despite having appeared in 174 games in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and this being his 68th in the EuroCup – which are more games at the highest European level than any other player in the game – Kalnietis played a game-high 35:42.

Against UNICS, he topped the 20-point mark for the fourth time in the EuroCup and recorded a performance index rating of 29, which was the second-highest of his career. Kalnietis notched a PIR of 30 two weeks earlier, in another win-or-go-home game, the Top 16 finale against Dolomiti Energia Trento. He collected 21 points and 10 assists in that game.

Now Lokomotiv faces yet another must-win game to reach the semifinals. Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind... When the season is on the line, Lokomotiv can count on Kalnietis.