Another Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, another road win for KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gazteiz at Zalgirio Arena. Baskonia is 6-5 in Kaunas and won its last three road games against Zalgiris. In the last two seasons, great offense allowed Baskonia to beat Zalgiris in Kaunas, scoring 97 and 87 points, respectively.
This time, the game was completely different. Baskonia's defense was great throughout the game, and exceptionally good at two critical moments. The first one came midway through the second quarter, when Youssoupha Fall checked back into the game. Baskonia led by 22-24 but Fall, a 2.21-meter center making his EuroLeague debut, started to block shots and intimidate everyone around. He had 3 blocks in as many minutes, leading Baskonia to easy transition points and its first double-digit lead, 27-37, near halftime.
Zalgiris managed to get back in the game, trailing 55-59 with 8 minutes left. That is when Baskonia improved its defense again, holding Zalgiris to score a single basket and 1 free throw until the final buzzer. Zalgiris missed 12 shots and picked up 3 turnovers. Shavon Shields and Toko Shengelia took advantage and capitalized on Zalgiris's mistakes at the other end to seal the outcome long before the final buzzer.
Fall finished the game with 5 blocks, one shy of Baskonia's club record, which belongs to Will McDonald, who had 6 against Asseco Prokom on January 28, 2009. Baskonia had 7 blocks altogether while Zalgiris just had 1. That allowed the guests to win the game due to their better two-point shooting percentage. Zalgiris was limited to just 13-of-36 two-point shooting (36.1%) – its lowest mark at home since January 2015. Baskonia hit 22-of-35 shots inside the arc (62.9%).
"I think that the crucial moment of the game was when Fall entered the court and had four blocked shots. We had an easier transition offense and a good lead in the first half," Baskonia head coach Velimir Perasovic said after the game. "They played totally different after that."
Fall battled foul trouble – he had two early ones in as many minutes on the floor – but still managed to lead Baskonia's defense. He is on the right track to join a list of centers who had Baskonia as their first EuroLeague stop in a stellar career. As for Baskonia, if its defense stays at this level all season long, it will be a very difficult team to beat.