Zalgiris Kaunas left it late to secure its Top 16 berth. On the final possession of its last regular season game, James Anderson’s three-point play with 2.5 seconds left capped an 80-79 comeback win over Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari and sent the Lithuanian champs into the Top 16. Anderson was a facilitator of many good things for Zalgiris during the regular season, especially on offense as the only player averaging double digits in points (17), the co-leader in assists (2.3) and ranking second in rebounds and steals. But the team got the job done defensively, with Robertas Javtokas, Paulius Jankunas and Arturas Gudaitis making Zalgiris one of the best teams at protecting its rim. Zalgiris is the only club in the competition ranked among top five in both rebounds and blocks, and it allowed the second fewest points per game in all of the competition (70.9).
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: This city that lives and breathes basketball will witness Top 16 action for the sixth year in a row, however the fans in Kaunas have been waiting for their favorite club to make a deep run ever since the team won its lone Euroleague title in 1998-99. That was also the last and only time Zalgiris faced Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade. Back then, in front of its fans the Lithuanian powerhouse celebrated the clinching of first place in its second stage group with a big 91-65 win, and later marched on towards Euroleague glory. That was the season of Zvezda’s greatest Euroleague success in modern history, as well. Whether or not pairing these two teams together 15 years later is any sort of sign, but the team from the Serbian capital arrives in Kaunas in Top 16 Round 13, and it could be a big game for one or both of them.
GOING FORWARD: Zalgiris has often had offensive-minded teams, but this season it has been the defensive effort that made difference for the team. Coach Krapikas’s side has held five opponents below 70 points. Such efforts will provide Zalgiris with a chance to snatch a win in any game. A week-long break has given a new point guard Will Cherry the opportunity to get accustomed to a new offense, and the combined experience of Jankunas, Javtokas, Darius Songaila and sharpshooter Arturas Milaknis gives Zalgiris plenty of room for improvement to make a run at its first playoff appearance in more than a decade.