Partizan m:ts topped Zalgiris 68-62
Partizan mt:s Belgrade climbed into a tie for second place by beating Zalgiris Kaunas 68-62 on Thursday night at Pionir Arena in the Serbian capital. Partizan matched Zalgiris at 4-2 and remained just one victory behind the Turkish Airlines Group A leader, Maccabi Electra. Dragan Milosavljevic was the star of the game for Partizan, scoring a season-high 19 points. The Serbian champs, who face BC Khimki next week, got 12 points from Oliver Lafayette, while James Gist, Jan Vesely and Nathan Jawai each added 9. Partizan jumped out with a 12-4 run at the end of the first quarter and Zalgiris could not find its way back despite Mirza Begic’s 19 points and DeJuan Collins’s 12 points, as the visiting shooters never found their touch against the host’s tight defense. Zalgiris will try to rebound next week at home against Maccabi.
It was a sweet start for Partizan. With the home crowd rocking, Vlade Jovanovic’s crew was stout on defense and pushed the tempo on offense. And when Vesely wasn’t flying for a fast break dunk, it was Jawai who used his big body to labor inside for high percentage buckets. Zalgiris showed plenty of poise under pressure though, executing the pick-and-roll flawlessly and moving sharply without the ball: When it came time to shoot it, there usually was a close range look, mainly by Collins, who pulled his team within 11-10. But Partizan had some kind of hop in their step and quite a few weapons, with Gist’s thriving on one-on-one situations and Milosavljevic and Lafayette producing from the perimeter, as the latest netted a triple that fueled a 12-4 run and closed the quarter with the hosts in front by almost double the visitors score, 23-12.
The game turned into a fast-paced affair after the break and Mantas Kalnietis led the charge for Zalgiris in the second period, driving baseline and assisting Travis Watson for a layup. A powerful dunk by Jawai seemed to bring the roof down after Watson and Lafayette traded baskets, but Marty Pocius lasted about a heartbeat to race down the court for the unassisted score at the other end. With no time to breathe, Jovanovic called for his team to slow down the tempo and set up a post presence with Jawai or Gist, but it was useless at that point, as momentum had taken over and Petar Bozic turned on the jets again to assist Vesely for a dunk and the 33-20 home side advantage. Zalgiris responded with close range baskets by Collins and Paulius Jankunas, but the host’s zone defense effectively slowed the pace down, favoring their added muscle and inside out game: in an open look three pointer, Vesely certified his range by nailing the triple that kept his team’s cushion in double digits: 37-26. As Aco Petrovic’s men struggled to find the bottom of net with noted sharpshooters Tomas Delininkaitis and Pocius unable to set up, it was Partizan who moved the ball diligently, and the final play of the half was a perfect example, with Gist kicking it out to a wide open Milosavljevic for a killer triple that left things 44-29, at the break.
The cliff was a considerable one to climb for Zalgiris in the second half, with the deflating triple in the back of their heads and the home crowd pushing Partizan. With Collins manning the point and trying to settle things down, it didn’t help that Milosavljevic electrified the stands even more with a firm candidate to feature as the play of the week: A baseline drive and double pump reverse layup for the half’s first score. With the home side feeling it and wanting to close out, Kaunas was unable to break Petrovic’s defense until the 3:30 mark of the third quarter, when a pretty Collins jumper stopped the run at 50-31. Begic was one the only bright spots of the visiting offense, so Kaunas tried to set him up in the low post against the undersized Jawai and got some trips to the free throw line that allowed them to at least regroup. Another zone defense also produced some turnover opportunities with Collins leading the break. Partizan was on a mission, hitting the boards with passion and always coming back on defense but, while Begic was misfiring some from the line, he was a force near the rim, tipping in a miss for a score and allowing for a Kalnietis triple to narrow the gap to 54-43 with a quarter to play.
Kaunas had new life and 10 minutes to go, seemingly controlling the rythim and keeping Jawai and Gist off the scoresheet in the second half. All of a sudden, Partizan was the hesitant team against a redefined defense that dared Jovanovic’s men to shoot from the perimeter. Milosavljevic did find a seam for a drive and pretty layup and Gist finally scored on a running hook to keep Kaunas at bay, 60-48, with over six minutes to go. The visitors mustered quite the combative spirit down the stretch, going after offensive rebounds and getting quite a few, but Pocius’s off night from the perimeter proved too much of a load to carry and Milosavljevic’s dagger three for the 63-58 score practically sealed the deal, especially after an emphatic Gist block of a Begic dunk attempt. The momentum altering play was all the crowd needed to cheer Partizan on to victory. Even after Begic redeemed himself with a slam, Milosavljevic again responded with a beautiful alley-oop lay in and the hosts managed the closing minutes well enough to finish ahead. They will have to wait to be ahead in the standings, with the 6-point win margin not being enough, but it will do for now, as Partizan enjoy their new shiny 4-2 status after a much-labored victory versus a tough opponent.
Thursday, November 25, 2010