VTB United League: Zalgiris takes revenge on VEF 0

In Week 14 of the VTB United League regular season, Lithuanian Zalgiris defeated Latvian VEF at home, 86-71. A big run in the third quarter helped Kaunas gain a sizeable cushion, which they maintained on their way to a comfortable win.

Zalgiris, this season’s top team, have only slipped up once so far. VEF (Latvia) bucked their underdog status earlier in the season to knock off Kaunas. Not surprisingly, Joan Plaza’s men treated their second encounter with the opponent as a must-win game.

The Lithuanians showed off their superiority from the very first seconds. While the visitors tried to figure out their ball movement on the perimeter, Kaunas, thanks to Mindaugas Kuzminskas, went on a 7-0 run. Nonetheless, the home team couldn’t do anything with their lead. The Lavrinovic brothers enjoyed an advantage in the paint, but the ball only came to them rarely. Riga, for its part, finally played to its strengths after that shaky beginning: 3-point shooting and aggressive drives to the basket. Along with Will Daniels’s encouraging effort off the bench, VEF ended the first quarter on top, 21-19.

The second quarter began as a test of nerves. The teams scored infrequently from the field and there were plenty of mistakes on both sides. The visitors broke down first, committing two flagrant fouls to go with a technical from their coach. VEF’s lack of composure helped Zalgiris gain confidence as they first caught their opponent, then developed a lead. After the first half, Kaunas enjoyed a healthy seven-point advantage, 44-37.

Halftime couldn’t cool off the home team now that they’d started rolling. From the onset of the third quarter, the Lithuanians determined to put the game out of reach with the use of their 3-point shooters. Oliver Lafayette, Kuzminskas and Rimantas Kaukenas each knocked down the long ball, forcing visiting coach Ramunas Butautas to call a timeout. 53-40.

However, neither the break, nor constant player rotation in search of the optimal lineup, nor aggressive defense against the pick ‘n’ roll helped VEF. The Lithuanians continued to grow their lead with the support of the fans. Excellent play on defense led to easy transition baskets and their bigs proved just as effective down low as their shooters had been from outside. Three minutes later, Ramunas Butautas had to call timeout once again. 63-44.

Turning Point

The second time around, the short break proved helpful to the visitors. Riga, led by the relentless Daniels, slowed the pace of the game, quieted Zalgiris and stealthily outscored the home team 16-7 in the second half of the third quarter. The once moribund game looked like it might still have some life left. The visitors’ exhausting comeback, however, sapped too much strength. Numerous mistakes and misses during the final ten minutes, the result of aggressive defense from the home team, buried the Latvian club’s hopes for a comeback. The double-digit lead held tight despite Zalgiris’s admittedly poor play on offense. As a result, Zalgiris settled its score with VEF convincingly, taking revenge for their only loss in the League and extending their unbeaten streak to eight games.

The Return

Something significant took place for Zalgiris in the second quarter. To the excited clamor of the crowd, Robertas Javtokas returned to the floor following a long absence due to injury. The center played a bit more than 11 minutes, collecting three points and two rebounds.

Star of the Game

Darjus Lavrinovic. In such a chaotic game, Zalgiris’s center proved a model of stability. Darjus played smart down low on defense and attacked the basket on offense, converting six of six field-goal attempts. Not surprisingly, he scored six consecutive points in the final minutes of the game, cooling the visitors off once and for all.

Stat of the Game

23 – number of turnovers from VEF. Riga shot well from the field (47%), attempted more free throws and even won the rebounding battle (30-26), but their enormous number of mistake negated their hard work.

Top Performers

Zalgiris: Darjus Lavrinovic – 14 points, seven rebounds; Mindaugas Kuzminskas – 12 points; Paulius Jankunas – 11 points; Oliver Lafayette – 10 points.

VEF: Will Daniels – 22 points.