Pieno Zvaigzdes survive OT thriller against Tartu, advance to finals

23.03.2017

PASVALYS – Not even eighty minutes of basketball could put any separation between Pieno Zvaigzdes and University of Tartu, as we went to overtime in the do-or-die return leg. It was a no-nonsense affair, and after a hard-fought battle, Pasvalys rose triumphant, securing an 82-75 win and a ticket to the Finals.

Pieno Zvaigzdes worked hard to put up a tangible lead before the halftime break, as Tartu’s shots just weren’t falling. A 12-2 run allowed the Lithuanians to get away and, two quarters in, it was a solid, eight point, advantage for them.

The margin didn’t swing much in either direction in the third quarter and five minutes in, the Estonians were still down by eight. University of Tartu really couldn’t get anything to fall from downtown, making just one-of-ten, and that really halted their progress.

Nevertheless, a good end to the quarter allowed the Estonians to make a move in the final minutes and got the crowd of visiting fans excited for the final period. Before we entered the last ten minutes, it was just a 2-point margin between the two clubs.

For the next ten minutes it was a back-and-forth duel, as just a couple points stood between the two sides. Mid-way through the final quarter, Dominykas Milka nailed a pick-and-pop three-pointer to tie the game up and Tartu finally got ahead the next time they were in possession.

Tartu’s stifling defense allowed them to make it a five-point game, but it was cut to just one not even a minute later. A number of missed free-throws made it tough for the Estonians to extend their lead. Pasvalys managed to push the game to overtime, as the Estonians missed the mark on their final shot.

During the extra five minutes, there were a couple of swings, as the visitors managed to jump ahead first, but were denied by a 6-0 run. Pasvalys managed to defend from their opponents’ final possessions, as the Lithuanians went on to win 82-75.

Vytautas flip the script in Semi-Final, defeat Kalev/Cramo

22.03.2017

PRIENAI – The first finalist was finally revealed after a hard-fought battle between Vytautas and Kalev/Cramo. While the visitors came into the game with a six-point advantage, that proved to be insufficient, as the Lithuanians won 88-77 and advanced to the Finals of the tournament.

It was a slow start for both squads, as nerves were definitely in play. Both sides struggled finding ways to the basket all quarter long, and it was a 4-point advantage, 13-9, for the visitors after ten minutes of play.

Kalev/Cramo brought out the big guns in the second quarter, as they raced off to a 26-13 lead not even halfway into the second period. However, Vytautas were not ready to give up on their hopes despite a combined 19-point deficit considering the first match-up. They got within six points in the game before halftime and gave themselves a fighting chance.

They continued working hard after the break and soon managed to tie up the game. And although Kalev/Cramo led for the lion‘s share of the third quarter, Tomas Delininkaitis took over, as he started splashing, nailing a couple of threes to push the Lithuanians ahead 54-51 right before the buzzer. Making things a bit worse for Vytautas was the fact that Vytenis Cizauskas had already fouled out, while Arturas Valeika was in heavy foul trouble.

Vytautas opened up the quarter with another three and that wiped away the whole first-game deficit and now put Kalev/Cramo in the chaser‘s position.

The margin had already reached 10 points, but Vitali Liutych hit a three, followed by an offensive foul from Arturas Valeika, which was also his fifth, and Kalev/Cramo was hoping to regain some ground.

The Lithuanians won the battle under the boards with multiple offensive rebounds and kept a safe advantage helped by long-range bombs with the clock running out. With 2 minutes on the clock, the Lithuanians had already jumped ahead by 17 and it seemed all done, as their defense seemed impenetrable in the second half.

However, it seemed Vytautas wasn’t ready for Kalev’s full-court press, as they wiped away 7 points in less than 30 second, followed by a three-pointer, bringing the Estonians within nine, with an opportunity to trim the deficit even more. Liutych’s three missed the mark and fouling was the last unsuccessful attempt to salvage something out of the game.

Triobet BBL Weekly Review: Volume 20

19.03.2017

Only two games were played this week, as the number of teams keeps winding down. It would seem that there isn’t too much to review, but the first legs of both Semi-Finals were even more exciting than we could have hoped for. Let’s recap it all in the Triobet BBL Weekly Review.

MVP. Andriy Agafonov has been named the Triobet BBL Player of the Week for the second time this season, as he led his team in both scoring and rebounding. The big man recorded 24 points and 7 rebounds, as his Pieno Zvaigzdes took on University of Tartu.

TIE. The return leg in Pasvalys is looking to become a thriller if the first match is something we can judge it on. After a back-and-forth affair, Pieno Zvaigzdes finished on level terms against University of Tartu, 88-88 and we’re hoping for a game as exciting in Lithuania.

QUOTE. Tartu Head Coach Gert Kullamae: "I think it'll be good going on from this result. Whoever wins the next game is moving forward, no playing mind games, no nothing. Very straight-forward. I do still think we can definitely play better defensively in some moments. To come out with a win next time, we have to improve for sure."

NO DEFENSE. The other Semi-Final was even more high-scoring, as both teams found ways to the basket all game long. One thing for sure, Vytautas’ Head Coach Virginijus Seskus couldn’t have been happy with his interior defense – Kalev/Cramo scored 71 percent of their two-point shots, making 27 of 38 shots. Despite that, the Estonians ended up winning by a slim margin, 94-88.

RHYTHM. Tomas Delininkaitis got in a groove early on, making four three-pointers in just the first twelve minutes of the game, and was a focal point of Alar Varrak’s defensive adjustments. He pointed out that the key to the game was Erik Keedus’ defense against the sharp-shooting veteran.

Triobet BBL Player of the Week - Andriy Agafonov

18.03.2017

For the first time this season, the Player of the Week will not be coming from a side that achieved victory. Pieno Zvaigzdes‘ Center Andriy Agafonov was efficient as ever in the Semi-Final against University of Tartu, as the two sides finished with the score level at 88.

This is Agafonov‘s second Weekly MVP award this season, as he‘s proved to be one of the league‘s most dominant big men.

In the tie game against Tartu, the Ukrainian had team-highs of 24 points and 7 rebounds, while he made 8-of-11 from the field and 7-of-8 off the charity stripe. He was excellent with 29 ranking points, and it was his second-highest ranked game throughout the season.

Agafonov has been in scintillating form throughout the play-offs, as he‘s averaged 15.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists, adding up to 20.4 ranking points per game.

That was a bit of an upgrade over his regular season campaign, as he averaged 13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.7 assists in the group stage – an average of 15.5 ranking points.

Pieno Zvaigzdes will be needing more of the same from Agafonov, as he tries to outmatch Dominykas Milka in the return game against Univesity of Tartu in Pasvalys.

Kalev/Cramo get the better of Vytautas at home

16.03.2017

TALLINN – The first leg of the series between Kalev/Cramo and Vytautas never turned into a nail-biter we’d hoped for, but it was surely a very competitive game. The Estonians led end-to-end but only managed to amass a 6-point advantage before the return match, as they won 94-88.

Kalev/Cramo waited for nobody once the game started. They got the first bucket and held on to the lead until the very end. However, it was a very intense battle nevertheless, as the Estonians had a very slippery, 24-20 lead after the opening period.

Mid-way through the second quarter, the Estonians had already managed to triple the 4-point advantage, as they got ahead by 12 points with impressive play on the offensive and a couple of big blocks on the other end.

Immediately, a time-out was called, and despite the big lead, Kalev/Cramo Head Coach Alar Varrak stressed the importance of shutting down Tomas Delininkaitis, who already had 12 points on four three-pointers. The veteran was the only thing keeping Vytautas’ engine running at that point and keeping Vytautas in the game. Two quarters in, the score was 51-37, in favor of the hosts.

The Lithuanians managed to regain some momentum after the break, as Delininkaitis’ sixth three got them back within seven. The margin jumped back and forth but before the buzzer, signaling the end of the third quarter, sounded, the Lithuanians had trimmed the deficit to six points.

At the start of the final fourth, another long-range bomb cut the deficit in half and left just three points of breathing space for the struggling Kalev/Cramo. However, the hosts weren’t very welcoming and quickly regained composure and a double-digit advantage. However, sloppy play in the final minutes cost Kalev/Cramo a lot, as Vytautas managed to trim the deficit to just six.

Kalev/Cramo Head Coach Alar Varrak: "The key moment was when Erik Keedus started to defend Delininkaitis and since then we kept building the lead. But as he collected fouls and had to return to the bench, they came back. Of course, the worst moment was the technical foul of Martin but that was not the reason why we didn't win as much as we deserved. The problem was a certain imbalance between two-pointers and three-pointers - we shot a bit too few triples today. Of course, six points means nothing and the real semifinal will be played on Wednesday."

Vytautas Head Coach Virginijus Seskus: "Certain lack of preparation was a big trouble during the first half - we only had 6 rebounds in the first half. Imagine that - six! They made 7 fast-breaks and dominated the game inside. We really missed Saulius Kulvietis today. Things changed in the second half - they only had 2 fast-breaks and our veterans did a good job bringing us back - I think we have good chances in the home game. I also have to say that playing in VTB has really helped Kalev - the level of their defense is very high."

All square after first leg in Tartu

14.03.2017

TARTU – The first Semi-Final tipped off strong, as current Estonian championship leaders TU/Rock took on Lithuanian side Pieno Zvaigzdes. After a level-sided bout, the game ended in a draw with the score tied at 88-88. We will find out the victors of the series in Pasvalys next week.

The home side, encouraged by a packed arena, had a good start to the game, especially on the defensive end, as Gert Dorbek led them to an 8-2 lead halfway through the first quarter. They retained a slight advantage throughout the quarter and finished the opening period leading by five.

The visitors looked stronger in the second quarter though, as they shot the ball well and quickly wiped away the deficit, even jumping ahead by four points themselves. Despite small runs happening for each side, neither Tartu, nor Pasvalys managed to sort anything out in the first half, as they entered halftime with 37-38 on the scoreboard.

Things really got lit after the break, as the Semi-Final turned into a high-paced shoot-out. Both teams were finding ways to the basket at will, but still neither could out-run their opponents. The quarter finished 26-25 in favor of University of Tartu and it was still a level-pegged game at 63 points apiece before the final quarter.

TU/Rock came out focused and managed to get their noses in front by five in the opening minutes, as Pasvalys were shut down, scoring all their points from the free-throw line in the three opening minutes. Janari Joesaar performed a couple of highlight plays that allowed the home side to advance their lines to eight points a minute later.

Nevertheless, the margin quickly dwindled down, as the scoring continued coming in bunches. With 30 seconds on the clock, three points stood between the two clubs, as Steponas Babrauskas drained a difficult three-point shot to tie the game up. Tartu dribbled out most of the shot-clock knowing they had the final attempt, but ended up missing. With the score tied at 88, the teams would find out the victor of the series in a do-or-die game in Pasvalys.

Pieno Zvaigzdes Head Coach Ramunas Cvirka: "Our big problem today was defensive rebounding. Much of the other things are the same, three point shots, two point shots, but 21 offensive rebounds for them... That we have to improve on. Offensively, I was happy with the game, 88 points is a good result. I'd be happier if we'd won it, but a tie is not bad."

Tartu Head Coach Gert Kullamae: "I think it'll be good going on from this result. Whoever wins the next game is moving forward, no playing mind games, no nothing. Very straight-forward. I think both teams played good quality offense today and that reflects in statistics on both sides too. However, I do still think we can definitely play better defensively in some moments, especially against their threes - some of the players, very good shooters anyway, got too much freedom. To come out with a win next time, we have to improve for sure."

Triobet BBL Weekly Review: Volume 19

12.03.2017

The season is heading towards its’ culmination, as we closed out the Quarterfinals stage this week. Only four game this week, so it’s not that hard to pinpoint all the highlights in one spot, as we always do with the Triobet BBL Weekly Review, this time already at its’ 19th Volume.

MVP. Traditionally, we start off with the highlight individual performance – our Triobet BBL Player of the Week. Dominykas Milka of TU/Rock was impressive in his team’s road victory against Nevezis, as he scored 26 points (20 in the first half) and tore down 7 rebounds. Milka was lethal from mid-range and converted with consistency on the offensive end.

AWAY GAMES. TU/Rock were defeated at home with a buzzer-beater from Jermaine Love, but managed to turn things around on the road, winning comfortably by 14 points in the return leg.

HEROICS. Most would have written off Barons kvartals after their 19-point loss in the first leg of the series against Kalev/Cramo, but the Latvians managed to turn the return leg into a thriller. Barons were dominant three quarters through and even managed to tie the series up, going ahead by 19, but they just ran out of gas in the final fourth.

ADVANTAGE. Vytautas should be happy they did their work early and came away with the huge victory in Prienai, as Valmiera showed up to fight encouraged by their fans. The Latvians won the game 74-64, but it was by far not enough to overcome the 31-point deficit from the game prior.

EASY. The Quarterfinals were not as lopsided as some might have thought, as only Pieno Zvaigzdes managed to take home two victories. After a 10-point win on the road, the Lithuanians backed it up with a 16-point win at home. All the other teams split their series at 1-1.

Triobet BBL Player of the Week - Dominykas Milka

11.03.2017

In the past week, there was no one other player that had as big of an impact as University of Tartu big man Dominykas Milka did. His performance in the return leg against Nevezis wasn't left unnoticed, as he earned Player of the Week honors.

University of Tartu bounced back from the last-second loss at home and carried out a beating on Nevezis, winning the game by 14, 92-78.

Milka was the notable player of the game, scoring in bunches in the first half of the game, as he already had 20 points just in the first two quarters and helped TU/Rock jump ahead with his lethal pick-and-pop jumpshots. He was nailing shots from the top of the key with consistency, as he bagged 11-of-16 overall from the field. The Lithuanian big finished the night with 26 points and also added 7 rebounds and 2 assists to the tally.

Milka has been a consistant performer for the Estonian club, scoring in double-digits in all four games this season, as he‘s averaging 18.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists.

Kalev/Cramo advance despite Barons' heroics

09.03.2017

RIGA – The series between Barons kvartals and Kalev/Cramo unexpectedly turned into a thriller, as the Latvians returned from 19 points down just to be shut down in the final minutes. Barons won 77-66, but the Estonian club will move on to the Semis.

With a 19-point advantage heading into the game, Kalev/Cramo had to feel confident. Nevertheless, the Latvians promised they‘d put up a great fight, and that was apparent already in the first quarter.

Barons played some good basketball in the first quarter, but couldn‘t get a tangible lead despite jumping ahead by 5 points mid-way through the first ten minutes. It was an intense bout with the Latvians leading by one after the first segment.

We saw a couple of highlight plays from both sides in the second quarter, as Mickell Gladness and Denis Krestinin tested out the strength of the baskets with rim-rattling dunks. As the teams traded slams, the score remained in balance. That was a sight that pleased the Estonians more, of course. Before the half ended, Barons kvartals had brought some thrill into the series, as they had a 7 point advantage at halftime, meaning there was only 12 points to return in the second part of the game.

While Kalev/Cramo didn‘t make that task easy for the Latvians, they managed to cut into the deficit even more in the first minutes of the half. After an unsportsmanlike foul stopping a fast break, Barons made it a five-point possession with two free-throws and a three-pointer, raising their advantage to 14, and nearly wiping out the 19-point deficit from the first leg.

Barons kvartals continued their magic and got another couple buckets to go, as they tied the combined result of the series, having won the third quarter 25-13.

The margin floated around that 20-point mark for most of the final quarter, with neither side able to make any breathing room for themselves. With three minutes to go, Kalev/Cramo had a six-point advantage in the series, as they managed to trim the deficit of the return leg to 13 points.

The Latvians couldn‘t convert on a couple of shots and ended up winning by just 11 points, not enough to see them through to the next round.

Davis Geks was the top-scorer for Barons, as he dropped 20 points. Tyler Larson was impressive in the third-quarter run but was completely shut down in the fourth, as he ended up with 16 points. Denis Krestinin was solid as always, contributing big time with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 3 steals.

For the Estonians, the duo of Vitali Liutych and Cedric Simmons scored 18 points apiece, as Simmons also tallied 9 boards. Branko Mirkovic had 10 points, while Mark Tollefsen ended up with 8.

First leg advantage sees Vytautas past Valmeira/ORDO

08.03.2017

VALMIERA – A big first leg win allowed Vytautas to advance to the next round despite losing against Valmiera/ORDO in the return game of the series. The game ended 74-64, but the 31-point advantage was too big to overcome, therefore Vytautas advance to the Semifinals of the tournament.

Valmiera/ORDO got a good start, jumping ahead by six points in the first quarter, but it was quite obvious that they were still facing a big hill to climb.

It was a battle we were hoping to see at the beginning of the series, as it was a very equal fight. Neither side managed to push the game one way or the other and it was a five-point advantage for the Latvians.

Nevertheless, a five-point advantage just wouldn't cut it. The Latvians really needed a miracle to mount a huge comeback, but it wasn't in them. Although Valmiera fought harder and put more heart into the game in front of their home fans, the deficit was too large to overcome.

Victorious, yet defeated, Valmiera/ORDO were led by Martins Laksa's 18 points. Damier Pitts was responsible for 14 points, while Arturs Berzins added 13 to the tally.

On the other side, it was a half-assed performance from Vytautas, who were led by 12 points from Vytenis Lipkevicius. Arturas Valeika and Tadas Klimavicius chipped in with 11, while Regimantas Miniotas also reached double-digits with 10 points to his name.