Lietuvos Rytas overcame Regal FC Barcelona 88-87
Lietuvos Rytas kept its Top 16 dream alive with an exciting 88-87 victory on Thursday at Siemens Arena in the Lithuanian capital that went to the wire. The hosts held off the reigning Euroleague champs in the final minutes, but Rucky Rubio had the chance to send the game to overtime when he was fouled shooting a wild three in the closing seconds. However after he made the first 2, Rubio back-rimmed the third, the hosts grabbed the rebound and celebrated the win. L. Rytas won back-to-back games for the first time this season and improved to 3-6, but to reach the Top 16, it must win at Cibona and have Cholet Basket lose to Fenerbahce Ulker. Meanwhile Barca dropped to 6-3 and lost its chance of winning the group. Milko Bjelica paced the winners with 19 points, Kenan Bajramovic added 15, Khalid El-Amin 11 and Steponas Babrauskas 10, while perhaps the biggest star was Sarunas Jasikevicius with 11 points, 10 assists and a couple of big fourth-quarter shots. Fran Vazquez paced Barcelona with a career-high 27 points plus 9 rebounds, while Jaka Lakovic added 12 points and Erazem Lorbek 11.
Both teams used long possessions as the first quarter opened, but Lietuvos Rytas was cooler as El-Amin found two holes in Barca's defense to give the hosts an early lead, 6-1. With Barca struggling on the offensive end and in the paint, Lorbek was introduced. However, it was Boni Ndong who scored Barca's first points off the dribble. Brad Newley and Cemal Nalga answered with two flashy penetrations and forced a Barca timeout as the visitors were left with only 3 points in five minutes. Bajramovic widened the gap with a free throw and added a layup after Vazquez converted a semi hook. Barca tried to play faster and it paid off as points by Ingles, Lorbek and Vazquez got the visitors back on track, 15-13. But the end of the quarter belonged to a focused Lietuvos Rytas as Jonas Valanciunas and captain Babrauskas stepped up with consecutive layups to finish off the quarter at 19-13.
Milko Bjelica opened the second quarter with a triple off a nice dish by Jasikevicius, but Vazquez answered with back-to-back layups from the paint. Saras then assisted to Valanciunas too, but the red-hot Vazquez scored again, this time from just in fron ot the arc, 24-19. Terence Morris nailed Barca's first triple using lazy defense by the hosts, but Valanciunas got to the paint in time to put in a missed shot by Bajramovic. Juan Carlos Navarro came off the bench to add another three-pointer, but Martynas Gecevicius answered with his own. Barca, now using a nifty press, simply couldn't catch the hosts as a triple by Babrauskas stretched the Lietuvos Rytas lead to 32-27. Gecevicius stayed hot with another long-rang shot and Bjelica scored in the paint to cap an 8-0 run by Lietuvos Rytas, pushing its lead to double-digits for the first time, 37-27. The lonely soldier Vazquez replied with a hook, but Bjelica had his answer in a basket-plus-foul. Still, Barca managed to get a little closer after a buzzer-beater by Victor Sada, 40-34.
El-Amin neutralized a penetration by Lorbek with a jumper, but the latter nailed another one, this time from downtown to close the gap to 42-39. A much more energetic Barca continued its run with a shot by Vazquez before Bajramovic stepped up with a layup. The fighting took place in the paint: Lorbek and Nalga exchanged baskets once more. Nalga scored inside again, but the hosts somehow left Jaka Lakovic completely alone for an easy triple, 48-46. Barca finally got back on even terms after Rubio fed Vazquez for a sensational alley-oop dunk, 50-50. In seconds, the visitors were in front after Vazquez scored from the line. Lietuvos Rytas found energy after Saras came off the bench. Bajramovic converted a dish by Saras, now directly facing youngster Rubio, and Babrauskas added a triple to force a Barca timeout with the score at 55-52. Ndong and Rubio combined for 3 points, but then Bjelica shone: he scored from the paint and added a last-second triple to make it 60-55 through three quarters.
Bjelica continued his show with free throws with the final quarter now counting. And then the crowd went wild: Jasikevicius spoke. With a confused Barca watching, he tricked Rubio for a long-distance two-pointer and nailed a triple to extend the Lietuvos Rytas run to 7-0 and the lead to 67-55. After a Barca timeout, Navarro stepped up with a three and Vazquez scored in the paint, but Nalga and Bajramovic brought back the double-digit lead for Lietuvos Rytas with consecutive brave plays under Barca's rim, 71-60. Babrauskas extended the lead to 13 with a penetration, but Ingles initiated a 0-5 run and forced a Lietuvos Rytas timeout. Bajramovic converted both from the line, but Barca now meant serious business as Lakovic shot from beyond the arc and added free-throws. Vazquez added a semi hook and Rubio penetrated successfully to get within 75-74 with 3:30 left. El-Amin broke the silence with a huge triple after a timeout, but Vazquez answered with free-throws, 78-76. Saras then remembered that he is known as a clutch player and set the Siemens Arena on fire with a tremendous three. After Lakovic traveled and El-Amin scored from the line, Barca only had a minute to play a fouling game. The plan nearly worked as Rubio was fouled heaving a wild three in the closing seconds. He went to the line with his team down 3 and 2.2 seconds remaining. But after making the first 2, Rubio back-rimmed the third and the fans let out a sigh of relief as L. Rytas captured the win and remained strong in the Top 16 fight.
Thursday, December 16, 2010