Zalgiris rallied back to defeat Zvezda, 71-66
Zalgiris Kaunas experienced another magical night in front of its fans at Zalgirio Arena after downing Crvena Zvezda Meridianbet Belgrade 71-66 on Friday night. The hosts sparked a 13-0 run late in the fourth quarter, capped by key back-to-back threes by Edgaras Ulanovas, to turn the tables when the visitors were up 57-64 with 4:53 minutes remaining. Zalgiris also grabbed the head-to-head advantage against Zvezda, overcoming the 4-point disadvantage it had from its meeting in Belgrade.
Ulanovas finished the game with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists to lead Zalgiris, while Achille Polonara and Rolands Smits contributed 10 points apiece. Filip Petrusev was the game's leading scorer with 16 points, and Nemanja Nedovic added 11 in the losing effort. Zalgiris improved to 12-8 with its fourth win in a row, while Zvezda dropped to 10-10.
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Rolands Smits boosted Zalgiris in the early going, as he nailed a couple of threes that helped the hosts build a 12-5 edge. Lukas Lekavicius made it 18-9 from the free-throw line, but a timeout by the visitors was followed by a triple from Branko Lazic and a jumper by Nedovic to kept Zvezda close, 20-14, after 10 minutes. Polonara took over in the second period, providing the hosts with extra energy and a huge contribution on both offense and defense. Then, 8 points in a row from the Italian allowed Zalgiris to amass a double-digit lead, 30-18. Even though Zvezda improved a bit on offense thanks to Luca Vildoza and Petrusev, Zalgiris retained a safe margin at halftime, 38-30.
The picture changed after the break, however, as Zvezda stepped up defensively, playing with more physicality and making the most of its dominance in the paint. In the first five minutes of the third quarter, 3 three-pointers brought the visitors back into the game. Petrusev and Luka Mitrovic took over later in the quarter to turn the game upside down. Right after Ignas Brazdeikis hit from deep to make it 50-45, the Petrusev-Mitrovic duo initiated a 0-11 run that Ognjen Dobric capped with a buzzer-beater triple to put Zvezda in front, 50-56, entering the last stanza. The visitors remained in charge for the majority of the final quarter, with Vildoza burying a jumper that made it 57-64 with 5 minutes to go. But, that was the last Zvezda bucket before a 4-minute dry spell gave Zalgiris a chance to comeback. That it did, thanks to Ulanovas. The Zalgiris captain erupted with 8 of his team’s next 13 points, including crucial back-to-back three-pointers, to bring the hosts back in charge, 70-64, entering the last minute. Zvezda was unable to respond, as Zalgiris came away with an important victory.