A story of how miserable night became a historic one

Edvinas Jablonskis
Daily Editor
2022-11-05 09:55

As Zalgiris Kaunas completed its historic comeback against ALBA Berlin, BasketNews takes you inside the Zalgirio Arena with post-game reactions from Keenan Evans, Ignas Brazdeikis, and Edgaras Ulanovas.

Credit: D.Lukšta

If anyone during the second quarter had done a survey on whether Zalgiris Kaunas could win the game, the results for the Lithuanian powerhouse would have been nasty.

A sold-out arena was silenced as ALBA Berlin were dominating the hosts with fluid attacks and toying with their defense. It didn't help that Zalgiris' offense also looked abysmal. At one point, ALBA had almost the same number of assists (11) as Zalgiris points (13).

With 3:00 left in the second quarter, Yovel Zoosman sank a 3-pointer and extended ALBA's lead against Zalgiris to 20 points (43-23).

Zalgiris went to halftime trailing by 12 points, having made only 7 out of 21 2-pointers (33.3%) and 4 out of 12 threes (33.3%).

In contrast, ALBA were running circles around the hosts, splashing 3-pointers (7/13 in the first half) and playing their beautiful high-tempo basketball.

"That was the biggest thing, just getting back in transition," Ignas Brazdeikis admitted after the game. "A couple of times in the first half, even when we scored, they would still get transition [points]. I guess we were not prepared for that as much as we should have been."

However, the second half was a completely different story. Although ALBA maintained a double-digit lead for the bigger part of the third quarter, Zalgiris defense was already more compact, and the visitors had to work hard for their points.

Yet, Keenan Evans ended the quarter with a 3-point buzzer-beater that initiated an astonishing stretch.

With 8:00 minutes left, Zalgiris were trailing 57-64, but then Evans made one 3-pointer, second, third, and finally fourth to tie the game at 69, with a little bit more than 5 minutes left.

At halftime, the 26-year-old had 0 points on 0-3 shooting with 3 turnovers but made a complete turnaround in a 5-minute stretch that was vital to the historic Zalgiris comeback.

"We're having a long day on offense, and you see one go through, kind of relieves you," Evans revealed after the game. "So hitting that three at the end of the third quarter really helped me out get some confidence back. It was fun after that." 

"Man, something like that I haven't seen in a while," Brazdeikis admitted. "I've seen it in the NBA a couple of times, but he's definitely a special talent. A great leader on the team, who shows up every single day, works hard every day, and I never had any doubt in him. I felt like he was going to pick it up, and he did."

If Evans made sure to crawl back Zalgiris in the game, Brazdeikis and Edgaras Ulanovas took the reins to completely sway it towards the hosts.

Brazdeikis was struggling throughout the whole game, but when it mattered the most, Zalgiris' marquee signing stepped up.

First, he completed a 2+1 play and moments later made a step back 3-pointer in Louis Olinde's face after being blocked by him a few seconds earlier. Brazdeikis finished his 8-point stretch with a drive to the basket, extending Zalgiris' lead to 6 points (82-76).

"Just being locked in and willing to win the game," Brazdeikis explained his approach. "My teammates continue to trust me with the ball in my hands. Kind of spread the floor a little bit and just let us play. Those last few moments in the game, I felt like a lot of times it's on the players to make big plays."

Then, it was Ulanovas turn to ice the game. After sinking a 3-pointer, Zalgiris captain made a difficult jumper with Luke Sikma's foul and closed the game with 1:04 remaining. His buzzer-beater three at the end of the game was a cherry on top that made the fans in Zalgirio arena go completely mad.

It was a three-man show in the fourth quarter, as Evans, Brazdeikis, and Ulanovas scored 29 out of 34 Zalgiris points, with Karolis Lukosiunas (3 points) and Rolands Smits (2) being other contributors.

The miserable beginning in another soldout game turned into the biggest comeback in the club's history. 

"It's a great effort. That's what it was," Brazdeikis shared his thoughts on coming back from the huge deficit. "We played as hard as we can to fight back. For some reason, even though we were down [by] 20, when we came together, we said [to each other], 'Keep fighting, keep playing together'. We felt confidence in each other, and that was big."

Evans himself was happy with the outcome but emphasized the importance of not making the same mistake again.

"We can't dig ourselves in a hole like that," Evans told BasketNews after the game. "I'm just proud of having resilience, keeping our composure, and fighting till the end."

"After such a game, you want to celebrate and cry at the same time," Ulanovas said. "We were very poor in the first half, kind of numb. There was a lot of negativity on and off the court."

"However, such comebacks show that we have a character and highlight how we should be playing from the beginning [of games]. The character and unity [in the team] is very good, but we have to learn our lessons and play solid for at least 35 minutes," concluded Zalgiris captain.

Last week, Donatas Urbonas gave 5 reasons why European basketball fans should fall in love with this Zalgiris team. Now, they gave even more arguments, and if that's still not enough, it's time to look in the mirror.

Keenan Evans post-game comment

Highlights



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