RADVILISKIS - Siauliai ended their region tour by taking revenge against the only team they had lost to earlier in the season, as they defeated Jurmala 87-83 after a close battle.
With an 8-1 record, Siauliai have now reached the top spot in Group A. On the other hand, this was just the first loss for Jurmala in eight games, and the Latvians are very much in control of their fate. They have a better series +/- score against Siauliai, having won the first game by 10.
There was no major swings in the game, as it was one of the closest games of the season with a total of 12 lead changes and the score tied on another 12 occasions. Jurmala had the largest lead of the game at eight points, taking advantage of second chance points on numerous occasions. The fact that Laurynas Birutis had to sit out a game due to an illness helped Jurmala's cause.
Nevertheless, a poor showing from the Latvian side's starting unit would not allow them to use the opportunity and remain undefeated.
Nicholas Zeisloft put up 21 points to lead his team in this category, while Donatas Sabeckis helped out carrying the scoring load. He had 16 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Vytautas Sarakauskas added 15 points to the tally, while Akeem Wright ended up with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 turnovers.
For Jurmala, Ivars Zvigurs had a great game, scoring 22 points and taring down 6 rebounds. Denis Krestinin added 15 points and 10 boards to the tally, while Arturs Strelnieks ended up with 11.
Laurynas Birutis, one of Lithuania's top young big men, is earning his stripes with top-notch performances this season. The 20-year-old Center, secured medals in both the U-18 and U-20 level, won the NKL MVP award last year and is adding the BBL Player of the Month honors this time around.
After a wobbly start to the season, the 20-year old Lithuanian picked the pace up and finished the year with some MVP-worthy performances, and four-of-four wins for his club. Birutis averaged 16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.0 blocks per game throughout the month.
BBL.net sat down to talk with Laurynas, touching numerous topics.
Laurynas, every single person I talked to about you, would have pretty much the same response – "he was well-mannered, would never put himself above the rest and would work tirelessly during practices". It seems you're now reaping the rewards of all your hard work. What do these awards mean to you?
Well, the trophies always come when you're putting in an honest effort. I've always tried to work hard and it's important for me to keep my head down and continue doing just that – step by step I might get somewhere. Obviously, it's always nice to get some recognition, it adds motivation and just shows that I'm on the right path.
Your dad played a great part of his career in your current, your hometown club – Siauliai. Could it be said that you grew up with it during its so-called bronze age? Do you consider yourself a fan of the Siauliai club or does your heart already belong to Zalgiris, with whom you have a long-term contract?
I was very very little when my dad still played, so I don't remember much. But from what I've been told, I would always be in the arena, in a way supporting my dad. It's a shame I don't have any vivid memories. But to be fair, both Siauliai and Zalgiris are close to me and I support them both.
At the moment Siauliai is one of the top three teams in BBL, you're steadily heading towards the Play-offs in the Lithuanian league. How does it feel to be finally bringing back victories to Siauliai? Has the basketball atmosphere in the city changed?
I would say so – the team went through some rough years recently, but it's getting better. More fans come to enjoy the games – obviously it's more fun for us, when they come out and support. We try to repay them with victories.
You played your last BBL home games in Pakruojis and Joniskis, another game in Radviliskis awaits. What is your opinion on this initiative by the club? How is the support different than when playing in Siauliai?
I think it's a terrific initiative – perhaps the people in the region can't come to our games in Siauliai, but we're happy to go and see them and bring some entertainment. Definitely, I rate it very positively! The support has been great too – the arenas were much smaller, but they were packed. It's fun, hopefully we get the same support throughout the tour.
I have heard that you usually stay after practices to shoot three-pointers. However, you've attempted just one long-range shot throughout the season. How's your shooting in practices and when can we expect a Laurynas Birutis three-point showcase during a game?
To be honest, I don't quite know - I take three-pointers during scrimmage games too – sometimes I make them, sometimes I don't. You know, it's interesting – I just don't seem to find the opportunity during a regular game. I'd like to get one or two to fall in for sure, but I'll wait for my chances.
That gets me to my next question – which part of your game do you feel like you've improved most during the summer and throughout the season? Where do feel like needing to put an extra effort to be able to play at a higher level?
Most? I've improved my mid-range game game, I can finally shoot from a bit further away. There's nothing specific I tend to focus on – I just try to improve everything and just advance as a player. Of course, I need to strengthen my body and gain experience, but those come with time. Quite frankly, you can always improve every part of your game, I don't think you can ever reach perfection.
Speaking of a higher level, the NBA Draft is closing in. Have you decided whether to participate this year, or are you still considering your options? Do you feel like you'd even want to play there?
Oh no no, I haven't thought about it too much. I'm just focusing on this season and being the best player I can be, putting an extra effort to improve. Nevertheless, the NBA is naturally a dream for every basketball player. It's the highest level of competition and of course I'd like to try my hand at it.
Do you follow the NBA season and do you have any favorite team or player?
Honestly, I watch Euroleague more. The games in the NBA start very late, so I just watch the highlights the following day. I pay more attention during the Play-offs though. My favorite team would have to be the San Antonio Spurs and I do enjoy watching Pau Gasol go to work – he's a great player and a great person to match.
Finishing off with a question that would not be so serious - one of your former teammates told me they'd given you the nickname of Buzz (Bazas). Can you explain how it came to fruition and what nickname do you go by in your current team?
I think it was just that one teammate who would call me that and I'm not quite sure why! I know exactly who you're talking about though! My nicknames now are a bit simpler – they either call me Lauris or Biras.
OGRE - An overtime drama highlighted Wednesday night, as Tallinna Kalev/TLU managed a surprising, 83-81, victory against Ogre, improving their record to 6-4.
You could tell early on that this game would come down to the wire. The two sides started off swinging back and forth, but a couple of long-range shots allowed TLU to jump out ahead by five points after the first period.
The intensity just grew from there on, as neither side managed to sustain any sort of momentum, despite the visitors managing to keep their noses ahead by a couple of baskets.
The second half was just as balanced as the first - the lead changed hands time after time, and with a minute to go, TLU held a one-point lead. Reimo Tamm added another two points to the margin, but Marcis Vitols cold-heartedly responded with a three-pointer to tie the game up for Ogre. Neither side could use the final 30 seconds to pull the game their way and the game went to overtime.
The final minutes of OT were nerve-wrecking, with not-too-many made shots. With a minute to go in overtime, Janis Poznaks had the chance to tie the game, but missed his free-throw. In the following possession, Ogre turned the ball over and had to resort to fouling, where the visitors were cold-blooded.
Reimo Tamm led TLU in scoring with 18 points, as Martin Jurtom chipped in with a dozen. Kriisto Saage and Dorde Dzeletovic ended the night with 11 points to their respective names.
Roberts Niedra came off the bench to drop 16 points for Ogre, while Rihards Zebergs added 12. Marcis Vitols had 11 points, while Gints Antrops and Guntis Sipolins finished the game with 10 points each, as Antrops also added 11 rebounds.
JONISKIS - The second game in Siauliai's region tour was met with another victory, as they handled Port of Parnu by a safe margin, taking home a 93-78 win.
Siauliai were deemed heavy favorites for this game, yet for over 25 minutes, the two teams battled as equals - trading blow for blow and the largest lead stuck at just five points.
However, right around the middle of the third quarter, Port of Parnu just seemed to have been knocked out of their strides, as a 10-0 run by Siauliai left them chasing.
The Estonians managed to close in in the middle of the final period, but no closer than seven points. Siauliai safely played out the final minutes, not allowing their opponents a single point, and secured their fifth consecutive victory.
Akeem Wright was the go-to guy for the Lithuanian side, as he dropped 18 points, tore down 8 boards and dished out 5 assists. Nicholas Zeisloft finished with 16, while December MVP Laurynas Birutis added 15 points and 6 rebounds to the tally. Vytautas Sarakauskas had 11 points and 8 boards, as Sarunas Beniusis ended up with 10 plus seven.
Saimon Sutt was great for Parnu, scoring 18 points and ripping down 8 rebounds, while Siim Markus Post recorded a double-double of 15 points and 10 assists. Timo Eichfuss ended up with 12.
PASVALYS - After suffering their first defeat last week in Tartu, Pieno zvaigzdes bounced back with a big victory over Valmiera/ORDO, defeating the Latvians 101-72.
There wasn't much drama in the game from the earliest of stages, as Pieno zvaigzdes made their breakthrough not even a quarter into the game, as they piled on the points to amass a double-digit lead.
The margin doubled in the second quarter, reaching 21 points by halftime. It seemed the hosts relaxed a little bit after that, letting role players take the court for more action.
This helped Valmiera trivially reduce the margin in the third quarter, but the game was put to bed in the next ten minutes.
It was a very balanced performance for Pieno zvaigzdes, as eight players reached double-digit scoring. Martynas Varnas was the team's top scorer with 15 points, while veteran Steponas Babrauskas added 14. Luis Shoshi added a double-double of 12 points and 11 boards, while Arturs Ausejs, Osvaldas Olisevicius and Tomas Lekunas all had 11 points to their name. Tomas Galeckas and Trevon Huges finished up with 10 points apiece.
Davids Viksne was the stand-out player for Valmiera/ORDO, as he dropped 21 points. Janis Kaufmanis added 16 to the tally.
RAPLA - There were several astonishing individual performances for both sides, but AVIS Utilitas Rapla ended up claiming a 99-78 victory against Betsafe/Liepaja.
While the hosts got off to a hotter start, it could be said that the two sides were absolutely equally matched for the opening fifteen minutes. The lead changed hands numerous times, before a small run helped Liepaja jump ahead by five.
Before the half ended, the game took a swing to the other side, though, as AVIS Utilitas Rapla built up a six point spread.
The margin just grew from there on, as the visitors were left far behind in the dust. Mid-third quarter, it was already a 19-point difference, and it was clear the game was all said and done.
The final quarter was greeted merely as a formality, as the hosts excited their home crowd with their fourth win.
Nolan Cressler had one of the top performances of the season, as he dropped 30 points, tore down 6 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. Devonte Upson was also incredible, roughing his way to an impressive double-double. The big man had 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Gert Dorbek was serviceable for 15 points, while Indrek Kajupank had 13. Dominique Hawkins ended the game with 12 points in his account.
For Betsafe/Liepaja, Kyle Benjamin was absolutely unstoppable, as he dropped 23 points and tore down 18 boards. Roberts Krastins and Toms Leimanis had respectively 13 and 11 points.
VALMIERA - The season's highest scoring game ended up being decided in the final quarter, as Ogre ran away with a big, 112-89, victory against Valmiera/ORDO after winning the final quarter by 18.
It seemed to be a very balanced game in the early stages, as both sides easily found a way to the basket. After the initial ten minutes, it was a 5-point spread, with Ogre keeping their noses in front.
The lead tripled in just two minutes in the second quarter, as it seemed to be climbing into the low-teens. However, the hosts managed to get a hold of themselves and brought the game to level terms before halftime.
The two sides kept trading basket for basket after the break as well, as the end of third quarter witnessed a five-point lead for Ogre.
Nevertheless, it all collapsed in the final quarter, when Valmiera/ORDO just seemed shocked to what Ogre was putting up. A 10-0 run put them up by double digits, and having won the quarter by 18 points, the visitors enjoyed a tremendous victory.
Always a long-range threat, Rinalds Sirsnins continued doing what he does best, as he dropped 6 three-pointers to lead the team in scoring with 20 points. He also added 8 assists to the tally. Janis Antrops and Marcis Vitols chipped in with 17 points apiece, while Gints Antrops and Davids Atelbauers ended up scoring 12 each.
For the losing side, it was Janis Kaufmanis with the top performance, as he dropped 22 points. Edmunds Elksnis added 20, while Anrijs Miska ended the game with 13. Eduards Hazners also finished in double-digit scoring with 10 points to his name.
LIEPAJA - In one of few Saturday nights with BBL action, Jurmala had unsurprisingly no trouble battling against Betsafe/Liepaja, as they coasted to a 66-50 win in hostile territory.
Jurmala made their intentions known in the first quarter. While it was a close fight in the opening 7 minutes, the visitors ran away at the end of the quarter, jumping ahead by eight points after ten minutes of basketball.
The second quarter was just as rocky for Betsafe/Liepaja, as they were held to just one point in six minutes of the second period, allowing Jurmala to drift away by 19.
The margin hovered around the 15 point mark right until the end of the game, without any major runs from either side.
It was a very all-around performance from Jurmala, as no player entered double-digits in scoring, but Denis Krestinin, Ervins Jonats, Ugis Pinete, Ivars Zvigurs and Haralds Karlis all had 9 points apiece.
Roberts Krastins was the lead scorer for Liepaja, as he dropped 17. Karlis Lasmanis added another 12 to the tally.
PAKRUOJIS - Away from their regular venue, Siauliai started their region tour with a 93-72 win over Tsmoki, making it their sixth win in seven games in the only game of this Thursday evening.
Siauliai started their tour of three BBL games to unite the region quite slowly, not managing to gain any ground against the struggling team of Tsmoki-Minsk for the larger part of the first quarter. However, a high-scoring end to the quarter allowed them to jump ahead by 9 after the opening ten minutes.
The margin quickly rose to double-digits and stayed there until the very end of the game. The home side entered halftime with 19 points separating them from the Belorussians.
Tsmoki's comeback attempts in the third quarter were admirable, as they cut a 22-point deficit to just 13 but that was as close as they got. Siauliai finished the game strong and took the undisputed victory.
December's Player of the Month Laurynas Birutis was the top performer for the Lithuanian side, as he collected 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks on near-perfect shooting. Evaldas Saulys added 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists to the tally, while Donatas Sabeckis ended up with 12. Nicholas Zeisloft, Sarunas Beniusis and Kristupas Zemaitis all finished the game with 9 points.
Yauheni Beliankou was the only man keeping Tsmoki afloat, as he put up a terrific performance, dropping 28 points and tearing down 7 rebounds. Roman Rubensteyn was second in scoring with 9 points, while Ivan Aladka added 8 to the tally.
RAPLA - A thrilling game and an excellent performance from AVIS Utilitas Rapla threatened Jurmala's undefeated status, but the Latvians held their end of the bargain and secured an 89-91 win in hostile territory.
It was a nip-and-tuck affair right from the early stages of the game, as the teams traded basket for basket for the opening eight minutes. However, Jurmala managed to finish the quarter on a higher not and ended up winning the first quarter by 7 points.
The league leaders had a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter, but a 2-9 finish to the quarter allowed AVIS Utilitas Rapla to catch up and erase most of the deficit.
It was just two points separating the teams at halftime but Jurmala once again rushed to raise the margin to double digits and secured a tangible lead before the final ten minutes.
The final quarter brought a lot of excitement, as the two teams were once again going head to head. With less than two minutes on the clock, Rapla reduced the deficit to just three, but the visitors responded with a basket of their own.
Dominique Hawkins stole the ball for Rapla and converted on a and-one play to cut the gap to just two, but their opponents were perfect from the free-throw line and enjoyed a tough-earned victory.
Edgars Jeromanovs was the go-to scorer for Jurmala, as he dropped 18 points. Denis Krestinin was just as impressive, getting close to a double-double with his 16-point, 9-rebound performance. Ugis Pinete and Ervins Jonats finished the game with 13 points in hand, while Haralds Karlis finished up with 11.
For the other side, the trio of Americans did all the heavy lifting, as Nolan Cressler led the way with 22 points. Dominique Hawkins added 19 points to the tally, while Devonte Upson picked up a double-double of 16 points and 11 boards, also swiping the ball away for 3 steals and 3 blocks. Sven Kaldre ended the game with 14, while Indrek Kajupank chipped in ten.