Zalgiris finishes season with home win
Zalgiris Kaunas never trailed in taking care of Panathinaikos OPAP Athens 93-78 on Thursday night at Zalgirio Arena. A 14-0 run early in the second half helped the Lithuanian champs pull away for good and the lead reached 24 in the fourth quarter as Zalgiris cruised to victory. The result gave Zalgiris a 17-17 record at the end of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season. Panathinaikos dropped to 11-21 and still has two games remaining. Lukas Lekavicius paced the Zalgiris scorers with 20 points on 3-of-5 three-point shooting, Thomas Walkup tallied 18 points and 5 assists and Rokas Jokubaitis added 10 points. Nemanja Nedovic scored 17 points and Ben Bentil 13 for Panathinaikos in defeat.
Marius Grigonis came out firing with the game's first 5 points before Nedovic opened the scoring with a three for the Greens. Georgios Papagiannis's alley-oop slam tied it at 7-7. The hosts reeled off the next 12 points to take a commanding lead. Dinos Mitoglou ended a 4-minute Panathinaikos drought with a dunk, but a triple by Patricio Garino kept the hosts cruising. Garino remained hot with 5 more points to make it 27-14 after 10 minutes. The lead reached 15 early in the second quarter before Mario Hezonja stepped up with back-to-back threes to narrow the gap. A Zalgiris timeout did little to cool the visitors; Nedovic drained a triple and fed Hezonja for a fastbreak slam in a 0-10 charge that made it 33-30. Lekavicius revived the hosts with a pair of triples and a shot in the lane to raise the difference to 41-33 midway through the second quarter. Ioannis Papapetrou and Mitouglou helped get Panathinaikos within 52-47 at the break.
A jumper by Mitoglou got the Greens within one possession at the start of the second half, but back-to-back threes by Karolis Lukosiunas triggered a 14-0 Zalgiris run as the hosts pulled away again. A three by Eleftherios Bochoridis change little for Panathinaikos. A layup by Marek Blazevic made it 71-52 midway through the three quarter. Nedovic helped rally the Greens to 74-60 through three quarters. A three by Nedovic gave the Greens hope at the start of the fourth quarter, but baskets by Walkup and Geben kept Zalgiris in total control. A pair of threes by Jokubaitis took the margin into the 20s. Lekavicius also hit from downtown to make it 88-64 with 5 minutes to play. Panathinaikos battled to reduce the deficit in the remaining minutes, but the outcome was already clear and Zalgiris finished its season on a winning note.
The two teams were very close in many team stats, but the two-point accuracy told a lot of the story. After making its first 8 two-pointers of the game, Zalgiris finished at 61.1% (22 of 36). Panathinaikos made just 13 of 31 twos (41.9%). Considering that both teams made 13 threes and Panathinaikos committed just 1 more turnover (16) than Zalgiris, that two-point accuracy was all the difference.
One more year for Jankunas?
The immortal Paulius Jankunas will turn 37 years of age later this month and there had been some local speculation about whether this would be the final EuroLeague game for the competition's career rebounding king. In the post-game interview, he was asked if it was his last EuroLeague game or not. After providing 7 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists to aid Zalgiris, he hinted that he is not done yet by replying: "I don't know. I guess not."
A EuroLeague debut
With 2:09 remaining, 18-year-old Mantas Rubstavicius came on for Zalgiris to make his EuroLeague debut. The first time he got the ball, Rubstavicius drew a foul from Zach Auguste with 25.1 seconds remaining and the Zalgiris bench erupted in joy as he calmly sank both shots for his first EuroLeague points.
Panathinaikos will conclude its EuroLeague season next week with a pair of road games in Russia. The Greens visit Zenit St Petersburg on Monday, April 12 in a makeup game from Round 6 and then they head to Moscow to meet CSKA on Wednesday. Zalgiris's EuroLeague campaign has concluded and it will move its focus to domestic competition.
Thursday, April 8, 2021