Facing down a do-or-die moment, Zalgiris Kaunas survived to fight on for a chance at the Top 16 by turning back visiting Buducnost 101-85 on Thursday in Group B despite missing its top performer all season. An injury in practice Wednesday kept forward Kornel David, third-ranked in the MVP race, from dressing for the game, but Zalgiris got all it could want from newly-signed center Tanoka Beard. Coming off the bench after 5 minutes, Beard proceeded to rack up a game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Lithuanians. The victory lifted Zalgiris to 4-8, just one victory shy of fifth place with two games remaining. Zalgiris also got 18 points from Ed Cota, 17 each from Saulius Stombergas and Gintaras Einikis and 16 from Mindaugas Timinskas. Buducnost, now 2-10, will finish last in the group now since it had only beaten Zalgiris by 4 in their first game. Dejan Milojevic paced Buducnost with 20 points. Bojan Bakic added 14, John Brown and Ivan Koljevic 13 each, Aleksandar Pavlovic and Zarko Cabarkapa 11 each.
With David not there for the home team, two other big men proved the early protagonists,. Einikis for Zalgiris and Brown for Buducnost traded threes as the guests hopped ahead 5-8 with better rebounding at both ends. Soon, Dainius Salenga tied the score at 11 with two consecutive baskets, but Aleksandar Smiljanic copied him to put Buducnost back ahead, 11-15. Halfway through the quarter, Beard made his first appearance as Ed Cota finished two fastbreaks to tie it up 15-15. Beard's first shot went down to help Zalgiris keep up with Buducnost. The Zalgiris defense was struggling with the quickness of the opponents and took some quick fouls. Beard now answered a pair of Smiljanic free throws with a dunk and a nice outlet pass that Vidas Ginevicius converted for a 21-21 tie in minute 8. Neither team was going to waste the last two minutes. Brown fed Bakic for a sweet three from the corner, then Timinskas replied for Zalgiris. Then Brown and Ginevicius repeated the process from behind the arc. It was a fireshow to finish the quarter, and when the smoke cleared, Zalgirs had saved a two-point lead, 30-28.
The rocket-launching continued apace in the second quarter. Einikis blocked Brown's shot at one end and drilled a shot from downtown at the other. But with three-pointers already contagious, Ivan Koljevic dialled up his own before Brown evened things again at 35-35. To speed up the game, Sireika sent Timinskas in for Beard and youngster Giedrius Gustas in for Cota. But Zalgiris continued to suffer on defense. With rather easy shots, Aleksandar Pavlovic and Brown gave Buducnost the lead again, then Pavlovic rained a three to make it 37-43 with 5 minutes remaining until the half. Beard and Cota returned for Zalgiris and got 4 points back in one possession, on a layup, missed foul shot and putback of the rebound. Beard now buried a jumper and added a layup to fully erase the deficit, but Pavlovic hit a a fadeaway jumper for yet another tie, 47-47. But Beard was relentless. His next shot and then a tap-in by Timinskas finally let Zalgiris build its first decentlead, 53-47. The last shot, however, was an elegant buzzer-beater by Zarko Cabarkapa that left the halftime scoreboard as close as through most of the previous 20 minutes, 53-49.
The third quarter started as Zalgiris hoped, with Einikis and Salenga adding 4 more points to the lead, 57-49. Though Cabarkapa scored on a backdoor play, Beard answered to become the leading scorer of the game then with 16 points. Then Bakic was called for an unsportsmanlike foul and Timinskas made 4 points in a row. The lead soared into double digits at 63-51 and Zalgiris pushed up the tempo. Cota gave an alley-oop pass to Salenga, Stombergas poured in another shot and the Zalgiris run was 10-0. By the time Cota banked in a shot and made the additional free throw, the margin had jumped to 19 pts, 70-51. Bakic was the one Buducnost shooter who wasn't missing the target, but soon he took a fourth foul during a flurry of free throws for both teams. Finally, Dejan Milojevic made 2 baskets from the floor, reducing the gap to 77-64. Cota, however, stopped that 0-7 Buducnost run with another three-point play, so that another quarter-ending basket by Caparkapa, this one a dunk, left the scoreboard in local control at 80-66 after 30 minutes.
Pavlovic opened the final quarter hitting from downtown for Zalgiris, and then Milojevic connected to reduce the deficit to 9 points, 80-71. Zalgiris missed close shots and its defense was slacker than in the previous quarter, but Cota had his momentum and with a couple of nice moves found 4 points. Now Zalgiris went to a zone again and it lets the hosts retake full control at 88-73 with 5 minutes to go. Now the goal for Zalgiris became points, in the event of ties needing to be broken to make the Top 16. Timinskas and Stombergas helped that goal with three-pointers to make it 96-78, but Koljevic matched them for Buducnost. The three-point festival contnued with Einikis making one. The buzzer-beater again belonged to Buducnost, but this time the victory went to Zalgiris and the hope that it can somehow lead to the Top 16 to the fans in Kaunas.
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Arunas Pakula, Kaunas