Zalgiris Kaunas’s retiring legend Paulius Jankunas had his best game of the season in his EuroLeague finale to lead the Lithuanian champs to a thrilling overtime victory.
Jankunas went out with a 'fairy-tale' ending
Jankunas has announced his plans to hang up his basketball shoes at the end of the season, so Sunday’s makeup clash against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgarde was his last time taking the court in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. He made sure it would be a memorable night for everyone watching with a brilliant effort.
“This was from a fairy tale,” Coach Jure Zdovc summed up after the game. “His performance, winning, scoring. Amazing night for him.”
The competition’s all-time leading rebounder, Jankunas scored 8 of his season-high 13 points in overtime to left Zalgiris to victory. He also grabbed 7 rebounds in posting a performance index rating of 17.
Jankunas was sharp early with a basket and 4 rebounds in 7 first-half minutes, during which Zalgiris was in total control of the action. But things changed in the third quarter when Zvezda went with a smaller lineup and blasted the hosts 15-35.
Zdovc explained that he did not play Jankunas in the third because he felt that the big man’s foot speed would be a problem against Zvezda’s smaller lineup. But with his team struggling, one of his assistant coaches urged Zdovc to send Jankunas back in.
“It was Tautvy [Sabonis]’s idea,” Zdovc confessed at the post-game press conference. “Honestly, I was afraid. He was sitting all the second half on the bench, 15 minutes. Things could go wrong. But on the other side, we didn’t have anything to lose and he deserved to finish the game.”
Jankunas’s three from the top of the key tied the game with 78-78 with 3 and half minutes remaining and electrified Zalgirio Arena. That energy never left, even when Zvezda led by 5 with 15 seconds remaining or when Dejan Davidovac went to the line to ice the game with 7.6 seconds to go. Like in any good fairy tale, Zalgiris survived against the odds when Davidovac split the free throws and Tyler Cavanaugh beat the buzzer with a three-pointer.
Then it was Jankunas’s time. He simply took over in the extra session. Jankunas first went to the post and scored. Then he got the ball back in the same spot, drew Davidovac’s 5th foul to send him to the bench and made a free throw. He followed that with a three-pointer for a 94-90 lead. Jankunas put the final touches on the game with free throws that made it 99-92 with 86 seconds to play. And when Zdovc finally took him out with 39 seconds to go, he received a well-deserved standing ovation, like in a fairy tale.