Vesely and Mirotic fuel Barcelona’s 2-0 lead

2023-04-28T21:51:54+00:00 2023-04-28T22:29:53+00:00.

Giannis Askounis

28/Apr/23 21:51

A couple of heavy hitters combine with the efficient defense after the break as FC Barcelona doubles lead against Zalgiris

By Eurohoops Team/

A much greater challenge compared to Game 1, but FC Barcelona overpowered Zalgiris, 89-81, for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series Friday.

Jan Vesely put in 26 points, a new personal best for the 2022-23 season. The Czech big connected 10/14 field goals, including a poster dunk over former Fenerbahce teammate Achille Polonara in the first half.

“We knew that they will be much more aggressive than on Wednesday. We tried to match it,” was the immediate reaction of Vesely on the improved showing of the visiting side in Palau Blaugrana, “We stayed mentally in the game. That was the key.”

Dropping 18 of his points in the second half, leading star and 2022 season MVP Nikola Mirotic followed with 22 points behind 8/14 shots for the Catalonia giant in Game 2 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs series.

Zalgiris played an amazing game from the jump, very physical, very desperate. But we also played a great game,” pointed out the experienced forward, “I think we did a good job defensively, with some mistakes. We competed. We won the second game, which was the key for us. Despite the 2-0, the job is not done.”

The defense was the game-changer with the team based in Kaunas struggling to find open shots after the break. Nicolas Laprovittola beating the buzzer from beyond the arc at the end of the third quarter helped his side keep marching toward the second win and so did his 11 assists.

Former Zalgiris point guard Rokas Jokubaitis chipped in nine more points in the tight battle with neither side growing a lead over the final margin of eight points. Apart from Cory Higgins (back) stuck on the injury list, Oscar da Silva and Oriol Pauli were healthy scratches.

The series is moving to Kaunas

Returning to Lithuania with a couple of losses, Edgaras Ulanovas scored 13 points to reach 2,000 points in his EuroLeague career by sinking a free throw with 6:58 remaining in the third quarter. However, the team captain was kept quiet the rest of the way. Ignas Brazdeikis registered a team-high 20 points.

“I think today both teams deserved to win. But only one team won,” said losing head coach Kazys Maksvytis, “I don’t have nothing against my guys. They were fighting and were in the game against a good team. We lost one more game but did not give up. We are going to Kaunas and try to change the series.”

Tyler Cavanaugh (back) was not cleared to return to action, instead remained on the Zalgiris injury list with Keenan Evans (Achilles). In the final stage of recovering from January’s back surgery, the 29-year-old forward might be back for Game 3.

“I think we took care of business at home,” said the former player and head coach of Zalgiris, current play-caller of Barca Sarunas Jasikevicius before looking ahead to the road challenge against his hometown team, “We understand how much better they play at home. We have to take the next step. We have to be better, for sure.”

Before Game 3 in Kaunas next Wednesday, Zalgiris will play host to Nevezis-Optibet looking to improve the league-high 25-4 record in Lithuania’s Betsafe LKL. Currently holding a share of first place in Spain’s Liga Endesa with a 24-5 tally, Barca will travel to Real Betis Sunday.

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