Zalgiris Kaunas spent the first six weeks of the season losing game after game. A home win two weeks ago gave the club its first EuroLeague victory of 2021-22. Now, thanks in large part to Lukas Lekavicius, the Lithuanian champion has claimed three straight Ws.
Lekavicius collected 13 points - including 8 straight points in the final 2:13 minutes - as well as 9 assists to help Zalgiris beat Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz 72-68 on Thursday night. The three triumphs have all come since November 16, when Zalgiris finally entered the win column by beating Panathinaikos OPAP Athens 76-69.
Zalgiris followed that with an 86-75 home victory over Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul before heading to Spain and losing 96-73 at FC Barcelona. Zalgiris looked like it might lose to another Spanish team as Baskonia raced back from a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit to even the game at 63-63 with under 3 minutes to play.
Lekavicius countered with a floater and then on the next possession knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line and the hosts led 67-63 with 92 seconds to play. He added 4 more free throws to push the lead to 71-65 with 35 seconds remaining - which would eventually be enough to win.
“I just took some open shots and made them and we won the game,” Lekavicius said calmly after the game.
The combo-guard raised his season-long averages to 8.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. The latter is a career-best and the former is the second-highest of his eight EuroLeague seasons, of which six gave come with Zalgiris.
“Lukas stepped up at the end and really finished the game for us with some huge baskets and some big-time decision making,” Zalgiris forward Tyler Cavanaugh said after the game.
Baskonia head coach Neven Spahija wished his team could have done a better job stopping Lekavicius down the stretch.
“We had Lamar [Peters] on him - our best one-on-one defender at this moment. Much more aggressive than anybody else. But unfortunately, he made some mistakes and we gave up some easy points,” the Baskonia coach said.
It must have been a relief for Lekavicius to play a bigger role in a Zalgiris win. After scoring in double figures in six of the team’s nine losses to start the season - including a 12-point and 10-assist double-double in the Round 9 loss to Real Madrid, Lekavicius had totaled just 4 points, 1 rebound and 2 assists in Zalgiris’ Round 10 and 11 victories.
“Every game is important for us, especially at home. We must win most of the games at home because we have great fans, and we did it today,” Lekavicius said.
And he certainly played a major role in the win.