JEKABPILS – An outstanding fourth quarter performance allowed Liepaja/Triobet to start their BBL Playoff run on the right foot, as they took a 67-62 (17-17; 13-16; 26-16; 6-18) away victory against Latvian rivals Jekabpils on Wednesday evening.
This was the match-up between the 7th and 10th seeds, with the victors proving why they were higher ranked.
This game was the closest match-up in these play-offs so far, and it’s easy to see that the two sides are very evenly matched. And the first quarter was a great example of that, as the lead kept changing hands, but the quarter ended up a stalemate.
Neither team could get any momentum going in the second period as well, so the two Latvian clubs were split by only three points at halftime.
It seemed that this would be how the game would play out until the final moments, as the eight initial minutes of the second half were also nip-and-tuck. However, after the teams traded sizeable runs, Jekabpils finally managed to jump ahead before the final quarter – 56-49.
It all turned around very quickly in the final frame, as a 14-2 run now put Liepaja in the driving seat. The home side couldn’t get any closer in the final three minutes and were forced to face a small, yet crucial loss.
Dovydas Redikas returned to Jekabpils with a strong performance, tabbing 20 points and 7 rebounds. Devin Taylor was the only other player in double-digit scoring with 10 points to his name.
Edgaras Zelionis was the leading scorer for the visitors, as he knocked down 16. Arnolds Helmanis added 10 points, while Kristaps Miglinieks ended the game with 9.
PANEVEZYS – Despite a one-sided victory, the ending to the Lietkabelis – Kalev/Cramo series couldn’t have been much more entertaining. Although the Estonians entered the game with a 14-point advantage from the first of two games, Lietkabelis managed to overcome the difference and took a 96-75 (20-15; 30-23; 20-18; 26-19) victory.
After winning the first game 78-64, Kalev/Cramo could feel quite safe before the return match. However, Lietkabelis proved very early on that they’re not yet ready to let their arms down. Five minutes in the initial period, it was a 15-7 lead for the Lithuanians.
The home side’s advantage expanded to double-digits right at the start of the second quarter, but Kalev/Cramo rushed back with a 9-0 run, cutting the gap to just six. Lietkabelis finished the quarter strong though, and the margin was back in double-digit territory.
While the gap dwindled down once again and only seven points separated the two opponents with a couple minutes remaining in the third frame, another draught helped Lietkabelis tie the combined score with a 70-56 lead.
The final quarter was simply a disaster for the Estonian club, as they broke down. Lietkabelis improved their lead to mid-twenties and it seemed there was not much left for the visitors to do.
There was still a 26-point spread was on the table with two minutes on the clock, but Kalev/Cramo managed to get some life back in the game with a couple of three-pointers, accompanied by active defense and trimmed the margin to 19, with a chance to dig in even further. Nevertheless, Lietkabelis survived and will now face the winners of the Siauliai – Parnu series.
Evaldas Zabas was the cornerstone of this victory, as he tallied 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Egidijus Dimsa was solid with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Ivan Nelyubov and Mantas Kazonas chipped in with 16 apiece. Dainius Salenga was clumsy with the ball late in the game and accompanied his 10 points with 3 turnovers in the final minute alone.
Rain Veideman led the losing team with 19 points. Gregor Arbet was solid with 18 points, while Scott Machado lit up with 17 points and 13 assists. Frank Elegar added 13 points and 12 rebounds to the total.
TARTU – After a very long break, BBL basketball returned to Tartu University Sports Hall, as the home side TU/Rock made their season debut with an impressive 100-68 (17-17; 31-15; 27-14; 25-22) victory over Prienai.
The Estonians now have a 32-point advantage before the return match in Prienai.
While the game started off as close as it gets, as the score was tied at 17 after the first quarter, TU/Rock cut loose early in the second quarter. The Estonians drained seven three-pointers in just over five minutes and ended the half up by 16.
The Estonian storm didn’t end there, however. A 10-1 run, sparked by Janar Talts pushed their lead to 25 with just a couple minutes burned in the third period. A couple minutes later, Prienai had another drought, allowing Tartu another 9-0 run. The game had already gotten out of hand come fourth quarter, as the Lithuanians faced a 29-point deficit.
While it was already all said and done, TU/Rock put the final nails in the coffin with four more three-pointers to close out the game. The Tartu side converted on 13 long-range shots in total.
Janar Talts was a pain in the neck for Prienai, as he scored 20 points, had 11 rebounds and 6 assists to lead TU/Rock in all three categories. Valmo Kriisa added 15 points, while Timo Eichfuss and Tanel Kurbas ended the game with 14 each. Joosep Toome and Tanel Sokk finished the contest with respectively 11 and 9 points.
Dominykas Milka was Prienai’s top scorer with 16 points. Gediminas Maceina and Arnas Labuckas added 11 apiece, while Paulius Ivanauskas had 9 points.
TAMPERE – The eleventh seeded Pyrinto delivered quite the blow to one of the top teams in the regular season, Valmiera, as the Finns celebrated a huge 107-73 (27-15; 29-13; 24-24; 27-21) victory at home on Tuesday evening.
Valmiera, who were the higher-seeded team going into this series, now face a 34-point deficit before the return match. The winner of this Eighth-final will play the victor of the Tyco Rapla – Ventspils series.
The Latvian side scored the opening basket and that was the last time they even came close to a lead, as Pyrinto raced off to a 12-0 run to grab an early double-digit advantage. They maintained a high offensive tempo and continued laying a solid foundation.
The second quarter was even more one-sided. Pyrinto knocked down trey after trey and soon raised their lead to a slightly inappropriate 28 points.
The Valmiera side finally managed to put up a decent fight only in the second quarter, as they kept their opponents from running away any further. However, they didn’t manage to trim the margin either, as period ended 24-24.
The situation just got worse in the final quarter, as Pyrinto pushed their margin to 37 points. It was all said and done even before the quarter, but the Finnish side should feel pretty good about their chances with a 34-point advantage before the rematch in Valmiera.
Damon Williams was absolutely unbelievable tonight, as he recorded a triple double of 11 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. Will Harris was also solid with 22 points to his name, while Antero Lehto finished with 17. Bryan Hopkins added 14 points, while Tyrone Kent ended the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
SIAULIAI – The first and last seeds of the BBL Playoffs matched up in Siauliai on Tuesday evening and the home fans were surely delighted to see their team crush Parnu 108-71 (24-14; 23-28; 27-20; 34-9) mostly due to an outstanding fourth quarter.
Siauliai, just like TU/Rock and Ventspils, started the BBL season from the Playoffs, while Parnu tabbed the final spot with a 3-7 record in Group A.
Siauliai looked like the superior team right from the initial minutes, as they mounted a 14-5 lead halfway through the first quarter. However, the game evened out in the second frame, as the Estonians managed to close in. They were down only by five at halftime.
Siauliai regained control of the double-digit advantage soon after the break with a 14-0 run and were once again in the driving position. While Parnu managed to close in a bit, the final quarter brought a horrendous defeat to them.
The Lithuanians killed any enthusiasm Parnu still had with a 21-2 start to the final quarter. It gave them a 32-point lead and provided some time to rest for the key players. The final minutes were merely a formality, but Siauliai made sure they made the most out of them and pushed the advantage to 37.
Rokas Giedraitis led the victors with 20 points to his name, while Rolandas Alijevas added 15 points and 6 assists. Ryan Olander scored 14, while Vytas Sulskis and Gintaras Leonavicius chipped in with 11 apiece.
Sandis Silavs and Renato Lindmets were the leading scorers for Parnu with 14 points each. Mikhel Kirves added 11 points, while Janis Vahter ended the game with 10. Parnu’s usual leader Ronaldas Rutkauskas did not play today.
RAKVERE – The closest game of the night occurred in Rakvere, where local Tarvas managed to put up a good fight against Pieno Zvaigzdes. Tarvas were considered a heavy underdog for this game, but managed to stay close and gave the Lithuanians a good scare. The final score, however, was in the Pasvalys side’s favor – 94-87 (30-24; 15-20; 26-24; 23-19).
This might just be the most interesting series, with the Lithuanians only ahead by 7 before the final game in Pasvalys.
While Tarvas had the early lead, Pieno Zvaigzdes managed not only to catch up, but also pass their opponents before the quarter ended. They used an 8-0 run to pull ahead and ended the first period ahead by six.
The three Tarvas’ top scorers – Juris Umbrasko, Brandis Raley-Ross and Julius Brooks – scored all but two of the team’s points in the second quarter and helped the Estonians cut the margin to just one before halftime.
The teams went back and forth in the third quarter, as neither of them could grasp a tangible lead. Unlike in most other today’s matchups, the winner was still not clear after three quarters.
Tarvas struggled early on in the final period and that helped Pieno Zvaigzdes amass a 14-point lead halfway through. However, the Estonians made sure they kept all doors open in the return game and rallied back to only a 5-point deficit. Evaldas Kairys hit the final shot and extended Pasvalys’ lead to 7.
Michael Dixon Jr. was the leading scorer for Pieno Zvaigzdes with 17 points. Evaldas Kairys was impressive with 15 points, while Zygimantas Skucas added 12. Osvaldas Olisevicius added 10, while Tauras Jogela had 9 points. The January MVP Laimonas Kisielius had a poor game with 8 points.
Juris Umbrasko led the losing side in scoring with 23. Brandis Raley-Ross, who was presented with the top-scorer award prior to the game, added 19 points and 6 rebounds. Julius Kavon Brooks finished the game with 16 points and 9 rebounds, while Reinar Hallik ended up scoring 15.
RIGA – Talking about unexpected results, the Barons/LDz – Juventus matchup would be the first one to pop to mind. The Latvians, who entered the BBL Playoffs as the 13th seed, manhandled the best team of the regular season, taking an 82-58 (22-12; 16-10; 23-13; 21-23) victory.
Juventus now face a 24-point deficit before the final match of the two-game series in Utena.
Barons/LDz started hot, pulling ahead by seven halfway through the initial frame. They dominated the boards early on and managed to amass a double-digit lead before the quarter ended.
The situation got much worse for Juventus just before halftime, when Baronas/LDz used a 9-1 run to set themselves up with an 18-point advantage.
The margin slowly grew after the break and reached an insurmountable 23 points after thirty minutes of play. The winner was all but clear and all that was left to find out was the final score. Although the margin had reached 28 with two minutes on the clock, Juventus managed to slightly decrease it and will be hoping for a perfect game back at home.
Dmitro Gliebov was the leading scorer for the Latvian side with 23 points. Kaspars Kambala had an impressive double-double on near-perfect shooting, as he tallied 18 points and 12 rebounds. Pavlo Burenko added 17 points and 6 assists to the victory, Kaspars Cipruss ended the game with 9 points and 13 rebounds.
Juventus played their worst game this season, scoring only 58 points, while their previous lowest scoring performance was 71. Of those 58 points, Vaidas Cepukaitis was responsible for 13, alongside his 9 rebounds. Rashaun Broadus chipped in with 11, while Saulius Kulvietis finished the game with 9 points.
VENTSPILS – Ventspils came out to their season debut on a high gear, as they thrashed Tyco Rapla in the first half and cruised to an easy 105-75 (28-11; 29-19; 25-24; 23-21) victory.
Ventspils, who started their BBL season only in the Playoffs, took down 14th seeded Rapla and will have a 30-point margin before the game in Rapla.
Neither team managed anything spectacular at the start of the game, as only two points separated the two foes after the first six minutes. However, that was exactly when Ventspils’ rampage began.
The Latvians won a six minute section of the game 25-0 and amassed an impressive lead, which they held onto for the remainder of the half.
The second half would have been nip-and-tuck, had it not been such a one-sided first two quarters. Tyco Rapla managed to stop the bleeding, but it was already too little, too late. The Latvian side finished the game without any stumbles and cruised to an easy victory.
Ventspils was led by Akselis Vairogs’ 20 points, while Troy Barnies added 14. Artis Ate had 13, while Artjoms Butjankovs and Martins Meiers chipped in with 12 each. Harvey Grant had 11 points, while Nikolaos Gkikas ended the match with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 14 assists – a new season passing record.
Four players reached double-digit scoring for Rapla. Domagoj Bubalo led the way with 17, while Rait Keerles added 16 to the total. Rait-Riivo Laane ended the game with 14 points and 7 assists, while Ernestas Ezerskis chipped in with 13.
Laimonas Kisielius has been a vital part of Pieno Zvaigzdes' success this season and it's due time he had some recognition. The Lithuanian forward was named the Most Valuable Player for the month of January.
Kisielius had an outstanding month, as his statistical numbers grew exponentially. He doubled his scoring, rebounding and assist averages, while increasing all his shooting percentages.
Throughout the month, the Lithuanian averaged 21.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while shooting 65% from two-point, 56% from three-point range and 80% of his free-throws.
BBL.net spoke to Laimonas about what this award means to him, his off-season routine, the upcoming match-up against Tarvas and his recent rise in form.
Laimonas, first of all, I’d like to congratulate you on becoming the MVP of January. What does an award like this mean to you?
Thank you for the recognition. Honestly, I don’t take these awards too personally any more. At the start of my career, I used to think it was an individual award, but as times moved on, I started viewing these more like a reference to the whole team’s play.
How would you rate Pieno Zvaigzdes’ season until now? Where do you see the biggest strengths of the club and what does the team need to add to become a powerhouse in the playoffs?
Right now we’re playing solid basketball and we’re a team that doesn’t rely solely on one or two players. We’ve got a well-balanced roster and anyone can come in and have a great game. That is definitely our biggest strength as a team. Perhaps one of the weaker points of our team is the experience – we’re a young squad and we could really use a big game or two.
Your opponent in the Eighth-finals is Tarvas. What do you know about this Estonian team and what can the fans expect from this series?
The Rakvere team will surely be a tough opponent. We‘ll have to stay focused going into the away game if we hope to have a good game. They‘ve got some heavy foreign firepower and the way we take care of them might decide the outcome of this series.
The Pasvalys side is often mentioned among the handful of teams that have got all the chances to take the trophy. In your opinion, what are some of the teams that pose the biggest threat to your run?
Right now, the only team that poses a threat is Tarvas. We‘ll think of the others only after this series is over.
Up until the end of the year, you were averaging 10 points, while in January, your averages skyrocketed and reached 21.7. Did something change in the coach‘s gameplan or did you simply get on a roll?
I had to miss the start of the season due to injuries and it took some time to get my rhythm back. This month we played some great basketball and it was successful both for me personally and team-wise.
Although you‘re not a fresh face on the basketball court, do you still feel that you‘re improving? Which aspect of your game has developed most throughout the year and during the summer?
I believe that this season, my biggest improvement was from the psychological side of the game. It is often an undervalued, yet a very important part of basketball. I‘m always trying to motivate my teammates, prepare them mentally for the upcoming big matches. Each and every one of us tries to give a positive kick in the behind to the others to push them to try even harder. During practices, we usually look to improve the team‘s decision-making. I spend most of my summers getting physically ready for the season and making sure I prevent any possible injuries. During the season it‘s more a tactical approach, therefore it‘s really important to set a good foundation prior to the season.
You‘ve played most of your career in Lithuania. Do you see yourself returning to the foreign market? Or is it more fun to play back home?
It‘s always nice to play in your home country – my friends, family are all here, but nevertheless, I would suggest trying out playing in a foreign country to everyone. It‘s an priceless life, culture, language experience and basketball is the perfect tool to try it all out.
And finally... Just recently you celebrated your thirtieth birthday – how did you celebrate your first step into your forties? Did your teammates remember to congratulate you?
We celebrated my birthday with a lot of work! My teammates were really wonderful – they came to my place before the practice with a great gift! And the following day, I received another gift – an important victory in LKL.
Pieno zvaigzdes have proved to be one of the premier teams in the Baltic Basketball League this season, as they tallied 8 victories in 10 games. One man, who has contributed a great deal to this success is Laimonas Kisielius. The forward led his team to three victories this month and earned the January MVP honors.
Kisielius had an outstanding month, as his statistical numbers grew exponentially. He doubled his scoring, rebounding and assist averages, while increasing all his shooting percentages.
Throughout the month, the Lithuanian averaged 21.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
What makes it all even more impressive, is his shooting – Kisielius' converted on 65% of his shots from two-point range, 56% of his long-range bombs and 80% of his free-throws.
The forward's best game was in Parnu, where the Lithuanian scored 27 points and tore down 9 rebounds, en route to his team's blow-out 108-80 victory against the Estonian club.
He followed it up with a 24-point, 6-rebound outing against Kalev/Cramo and then finished off the month with another double-digit performance in the big win against Jurmala/Fenikss.