Two teams with their own last-minute handicaps fought for a share of first place in Group A on Thursday, and when they finished fighting, Zalgiris had the upper hand with a 63-58 decision over visiting Tau Ceramica. Zalgiris zoomed to 2-0 despite not having its superstar center, Tanoka Beard, scratched due to injury before the game and possibly to miss several weeks. Reggie Freeman supplied the scoring leadership for the winners, with 17 points, while Darjus Lavrinovic stepped up with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Paulius Jankunas added 11 rebounds for Zalgiris. Tau, now 1-1, had its own troubles stemming from a 19-hour trip to reach Kaunas, Lithuania amid weather difficulties. Luis Scola again paced Tau with 22 points and 9 rebounds, while Pablo Prigioni scored 11 points and Serkan Erdogan 10.
Scola took advantage of the absence of Beard by opening the game back-to-back baskets from the low post. New Zalgiris player Elias Ayuso stayed calm in his debut, landing a bomb from downtown. Both teams enjoyed a run-and-shoot start, and a good sign came for the hosts as Lavrinovic was active on the both ends. Stille, despite its focused game on defense, Zalgiris could not score for more then 4 minutes, by which time Scola made in-your-face layup for 10 points of his own . Jankunas fed Lavrinovic for one easy basket underneath and the big man added another on the fast-break. Zalgiris almost completed the comeback as Freeman joined the scoring, but Sergi Vidal's triple vaulted Tau in front, 16-18, after 10 minutes.
Zalgiris started second quarter with big shots from big guys, Jankunas and Lavrinovic, while Freeman added a basket-plus-free throw for a 7-2 run that put the hosts ahead 23-20. While Scola rested, Tau kept playing inside and forcing Zalgiris to commit fouls. Jankunas came back to help the defense under the basket. Zalgiris extended the lead to 27-22 as Simonas Serapinas made his first points on a triple. When Lavrinovic came back on court, he immedately fed Jonas Maciulis with a nice assist for an easy layup. Tau responded with individual effort by Scola, who took and made 4 free throws to reduced the halftime difference to 29-28.
After halftime, the two teams traded baskets as Zalgiris tried playing with twin playmakers, Vidas Ginevicius and Ed Cota, but still lacked good ball distribution. Freeman hit a triple for the hosts, but Prigioni copied him twice, giving a lead back to Tau, 35-38. Zalgiris found its go-to-guy in Jankunas, whose triple from the corner and middle distance jumper tied it, 40-40. The fans got going when Ginevicius stole and fed Serapinas for fastbreak dunks twice in a row. Tau's defense seemed full of holes while Zagiris found leaders everywhere as Freeman penetrated for a basket-plus-free throw. At the same time, Tau struggled to put shots in, allowing Freeman to close the third quarter with a nice layup that boosted the Zalgiris lead to 49-41.
Zalgiris continued dominating to start the final quarter with 5-0 on a triple from Ginevicius and a jumper by Darius Silinskis. Tau responded with aggressive defense and 4 points by Scola and Prigioni. Despite various rotations, Tau's offense still relied on Scola, so Zalgiris focused on closing his way to the basket. When Scola sat, Predrag Drobjnak found an inside basket, but it seemed that Zalgiris could not miss now as Freeman downed a very tough layup, Lavrinovic made a reverse semi-hook and youngster Maciulis bombed from deep to make it 63-51. Tau started full-curt pressure with 2 minutes left and managed to get within 63-55 on a steal and dunk by Vidal, but it was too late for comeback and buzzer beater by Erdogan didn's spoil a second win in as many tries for Zalgiris.
Thursday, November 10, 2005