The wait was over. Finally, Siena was living a Euroleague opening game with their beloved team, Montepaschi. A fascinated and fired-up crowd packed the arena from the early evening. In the end, they got exactly what they came for, basketball at its best for much of the game, but Montepaschi pulling away to an 81-74 victory, its first ever in the Euroleague. Dusan Vukcevic was the man of the game 25 points, including 6 three-pointers without a miss, and 5 rebounds. Underneath, the big boy for Siena was Mirsad Turkcan, who collected another double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Alphonso Ford added 15 points for the winners. For Zalgiris, Kornel David scored 20 points, Saulius Stombergas backed him up with 16, while Ed Cota added 15 points and 7 rebounds. The result gives Montepaschi a 1-0 record in Group B, but will likely be remembered by the fans as the night Siena joined basketball's big-time.
The game started with an up-tempo style and very high shooting percentages. Mindaugas Zukauskas was on fire for Siena and scored 5 points in a row with a three-point and a fastbreak layup assisted by Curtis McCants, on the court since the beginning of the match. From the opening moments, there were two incredible and decisive duels under the rims, Mirsad Turkcan and Roberto Chiacig of Siena vs. Kornel David and Gintaras Einikis of Zalgiris. It was a physical battle with a combination of inside-outside possibilities as each challenged the other one-on-one. Chiacig worked hard in low post, while Turkcan was very dangerous from downtown, with 11 points at the end of the first quarter, including 2 triples. On Zalgiris, Einikis had 8 points worth of jumpers from the mid-range. That was good enough to help the visitors to a 22-24 edge at the end of 10 minutes.
Zalgiris started the second quarter with a 2-3 zone and short lineup. Siena answered with the same tactical choice, with Turkcan in center slot and four dangerous three-point shooting guards. It was certainly the right solution for Siena, which began raining triples and openeing up a big lead. Zalgiris tried to keep in the game, hanging on the drives of Ed Cota, a speedster all along the court. Montepaschi took a 42-37 lead, but could never run away. Wanting a more aggressive defense, Siena coach Ergin Ataman called Chiacig from the bench. He was positioned in the paint to cover Cota's drives. Meanwhile, Siena had Dusan Vukcevic on fire, scoring 11 points in the second period with his fine shooting. Zalgiris found a few fastbreak opportunities, and was able to take high-percentage shots and thus keep the scoreboard close. The top scorer was David with 14 points. Cota added 9 points. At the end of the first half Montepaschi had a 46-42 lead.
Soon, at the beginnig of the third quarter, Cota scored a tying jumper at 46-46, but the answer came from Vukcevic, again from downtown. Montepaschi suffered foul trouble with Ford, Turkcan and Zukauskas, who was benched with four. Both the team returned to man-to-man defense and automatically brought out a couple of big men. That lasted until Einikis, benched for Silinskis suffered his fourth foul. Meanwhile, Ford was warming up, taking it one-o-one, but looking for his teammates, too. On one such play, he drove the paint and saw a Siena guard for a free triple. Who? Vukcevic, of course. Siena took a 60-52 lead nearthe end of the period by getting to the basket easier. Its own 2-3 zone had stalled David at 16) points, while Vukcevic was up to 19, Ford and Turkcan 13 each. The scoreboard was the total that counted, however, and that showed Siena up by double digits, 63-52, at the end of the third quarter. Montepaschi started the last period with two big shots from downtown, but David found 5 points in a row to keep Zalgiris in the game. As he seemed the only visitor who could get his shots, when his fifth foul arrived, the momentum swung clearly to the home team. The crowd was on fire from breathing the scent of a first Euroleague victory. Siena played harder on defense, forcing Zalgiris to into bad shots, while domination under the boards led to fastbreaks which closed out all doubt about the winner. There were no possibilities for Zalgiris to come back from so far down, even if a brave Stombergas tried with a three-pointer to shake his teammates. This would be Siena's night, after all.
Thursday, October 10, 2002
Stefano Sensi, Siena