VTB United League: Zalgiris beats CSKA in Moscow 0

In Week 13 of the VTB United League regular season, Lithuanian Zalgiris defeated Russian CSKA on the road, 74-68. After a closely-contested first half, the Kaunas club kicked into higher gear to dominate down the stretch. This rivalry win allowed the Lithuanians to regain first place in Group B.

Prior to the Game
As in October, when the two teams met up in Kaunas, Sunday’s CSKA – Zalgiris contest was preceded by a Legends Game between former club stars. In their first meeting, led by the remarkably spry Arvydas Sabonis, Zalgiris scraped out victory, 46-45. The fans in attendance at USH CSKA also enjoyed a hard-fought game: The game came down to the final possession. Sabas once again showed off his talent and excellent physical condition, hitting a 3-pointer despite being fouled and dunking several times. His dominance helped the visitors pull ahead early in the game, but the Army Men picked up their effort and took a one-point lead into halftime. At the beginning of the second half, Saulius Stombergas led Zalgiris back into the lead. The Muscovites had to catch up, which they did in the final seconds, thanks to Valery Tikhonenko and Vasily Karasev. The Lithuanians had one last chance to win it, but their shot at the buzzer missed. 28-28 – a hard-fought tie!

The outcome wasn’t most important, anyway. The opportunity to see one’s favorite players again was priceless; the large morning crowd that gathered in Moscow served as confirmation. The legends put on an excellent show to warm the fans up for the main act. We hope that similar games will become tradition in the years ahead.

Less than an hour later, the modern CSKA and Zalgiris teams took the court. Not surprisingly, the players’ speed on the court increased significantly and the first quarter flew by. As expected, Milos Teodosic tried to attack the Lithuanians’ weakened backcourt, with Ibragim Jaaber and Rimantas Kaukenas both gone. He scored eight of his team’s first 10 points. Joan Plaza had a response ready: Vyitenis Lipkevicus, quite unexpectedly, mirrored Teodosic’s feat, only for Zalgiris. Nenad Krstic and Zoran Erceg looked sharp for CSKA in the first quarter. The game was tight, but the home team closed the quarter a bit better, leading 21-16.

Nothing changed in the second period. Both teams remained highly motivated, pushed the pace and contested each possession. The Army Men, as usual, burned up and down the floor, looking for the fast break at every opportunity. The Lithuanians preferred to work though the paint, often relying on the Lavrinovic brothers and Paulius Jankunas. The second quarter ended in a tie, 17-7, and CSKA ended the half with a 38-33 lead.

The opening five minutes of the third quarter may have been Zalgiris’s best stretch of play this season. The Army Men, on other hand, slacked off a bit, for which they paid dearly. Who knows what got into him at halftime, but American Tremmell Darden, quiet in the first half, led the Lithuanian run in the third period. Over a brief stretch, the guard outmaneuvered Teodosic in the paint, dunked, and blocked the CSKA player on a drive to the basket. Marko Popovic threw in a 3-pointer and the Kaunas five-point deficit turned quickly into a six-point lead. To their credit, the Russians regained focus and slowed their opponent down with several 3-pointers from Anton Ponkrashov and Erceg. Having improved their offensive efficiency, the Red and Blue picked up their defense and regained the lead heading into the final quarter, 54-52.

Turning Point

Did we say that Zalgiris’s start to the third quarter may have been their stretch of play this season? Forget it. The basketball played by the Lithuanians in the final 10 minutes made even Sabonis proud. Observing his team’s play at the end – the entire fourth quarter, played at extremely high pressure, could be considered the game’s conclusion – the renowned Lithuanian likely remembered the legendary Kaunas club of Soviet days. The Baltic club simply smothered the Army Men’s offense, which got on the board for the first time in the fourth with three and a half minutes left in the game. The White and Green also played well on offense and gradually pulled away from their opponent. Halfway through the quarter, Adas Juskevicius increased the lead to eight points from long range. That was the key play. Of course, the home team played hard until the final horn, even trimming the lead to four points at the very end, but the Muscovite’s efforts were in vain. Zalgiris didn’t falter and finished off their victory, 74-68. Having defeated a bitter rival on the road, the Lithuanian club finally returns to first place in Group B.

Star of the Game

Paulius Jankunas. Once again, it’s hard to single out any one player, as the team won thanks to a complete effort and smooth play together on the court. Paulius’s huge volume of work on both ends of the floor, though, symbolizes Zalgiris’s performance on Sunday.

Stat of the Game

6 minutes, 32 seconds. The amount of time needed by the Army Men to record their first basket in the final quarter. The Lithuanians during that stretch enjoyed a 12-2 run, which decided the outcome.


CSKA head coach Ettore Messina:
– Zalgiris deserves to be congratulated: The opponent played hard, fought, demonstrated team basketball. On the other hand, it’s clear that we took the court with a poor attitude about the game and ourselves. In the six months since the season began, you can make some decided conclusions about our team. Two weeks ago, when we were missing some injured players, our team made some big steps improving the chemistry on the squad, and, it seemed to us, that we’d finally reach our goal. The second our problems went away, however, we lost focus and the players began to overuse one-on-one play and forget about defense. Right now we can’t overcome the limits we’ve created for ourselves. The team is unstable psychologically. We’ll try to change the situation, we’ve been doing it all season, but I’m not ready yet to guarantee that we’ll be able to do it all. In the final quarter I didn’t call a timeout because I could see that the players on the court were searching for someone to blame, rather than a way to change the game. I was convinced they simply wouldn’t hear me. We can learn from this loss. But for that to happen, we must change our attitude toward our work.

Zalgiris head coach Joan Plaza:
– We never detached from the game, the team kept working the whole time. I’d like to congratulate my young players, who have improved since the beginning of the season. They really helped us out today. I understand that our next game against CSKA will be very challenging, given it’s a Euroleague contest. They’ll likely remember this loss. I dedicate this victory to Zalgiris fans, who haven’t celebrated a win in Moscow since the 1980s. I know that it’s very important and that many came to the game with their parents.

Top Performers

CSKA: Milos Teodosic – 13 points, Sonny Weems – 12 point, Viktor Khryapa – six points, five rebounds.

Zalgiris: Darius Lavrinovic – 12 points, Mindaugas Kuzminskas – 12 points, Paulius Jankunas – 11 points.