Zalgiris Kaunas led from start to finish in defeating Khimki Moscow Region 96-85 on Tuesday evening at Zalgirio Arena.
The Lithuanian champs won their third in a row and sixth in their last seven games to leapfrog Khimki in the standings. Both teams have 12-15 records, but Zalgiris captured the head-to-head tiebreaker between them. The game also snapped an eight-game winning streak for Khimki in games between the teams. Zalgiris dominated early to lead 29-15 after 10 minutes and took the margin to 20 in the second quarter. Zalgiris rallied to get within 6 in the fourth quarter, but a flurry of 4 three-pointers by K.C. Rivers helped Zalgiris remain in control and Zach LeDay’s basket-plus-foul helped secure the tiebreaker, too. LeDay paced five Zalgiris scorers in double figures with 23 points, Rivers finished with 15 points, Lukas Lekavicius scored 14, Arturas Milaknis 12 and Edgaras Ulanovas 10. Alexey Shved scored 24 for Khimki, Janis Timma netted 20, Jonas Jerebko tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds and Stefan Jovic added 10 points.
Zalgiris came out firing and took the lead through back-to-back three-pointers by Ulanovas and Milaknis. Threes by Timma and Jovic brought Khimki back. LeDay came off the bench and knocked down a triple that gave the hosts a 20-12 cushion. Shved heated up for Khimki, but Zalgiris continued to score and reeled off the last 9 points of the opening quarter, including a three by Nigel Hayes on the buzzer, to lead 29-15. Thomas Robinson scored first for Khimki in the second quarter, but LeDay remained hot as the hosts surged to 36-17. Rivers made it a 20-point game midway through the quarter with his first – and Zalgiris's sixth – three of the game. The forward duo of Timma and Jerebko kept fighting for Khimki. Lekavicius free throws made it 50-34 at halftime.
Khimki started the second half with back-to-back threes by Shved and Timma to trigger a 0-8 run, which could have been more, but Khimki players combined to miss 3 free throws. Zalgiris responded with a 6-0 spurt before Khimki called a timeout down 56-42. Khimki regrouped again and a Shved-to-Devin Booker alley-oop slam and a deep three by Timma made it 61-54. Shved ended the third quarter with a three-pointer that made it 64-58. Ulanovas bagged a three to get the fans going on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Rivers extended the margin to double figures three times with as many three-pointers to keep Khimki at bay. Jovic scored 5 quick points to bring the visitors within 78-72. After a timeout, Rivers came to the rescue with his 5th three of the game. Slams by LeDay and Ulanovas put the hosts up 88-77 with less than 3 minutes to play. A basket-plus-foul for LeDay with 14.8 seconds left followed by a Zalgiris steal gave the home team the tiebreak advantage too.
K.C. Rivers came up big in the fourth quarter when Khimki was rallying hard. The sweet-shooting swingman fired in 3 three-pointers in less than 90 seconds to keep the visitors at bay and had another less than 2 minutes later. In the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter, Rivers had 12 of Zalgiris's 17 points and almost matched Khimki (14 points) singlehandedly.
It was all about scoring for Zalgiris, which topped the 90-point mark for the fourth time in five games. Zalgiris made 71.9% of its two-pointers, which was a season-high and fifth-best in club history. The hosts also made half of their 28 attempts from downtown. Naturally, with so many shots going in, there were a lot of assists; Zalgiris tied its club record with 29 assists. It was the third time – and second this season – that the club reached that number. Even more impressive was that it did so with just 9 turnovers.
Coach Jasikevicus only gave four players significant minutes off the bench, but they played major roles. K.C. Rivers, Lukas Lekavicius, Nigel hayes and Zach LeDay combined for 60 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 85 combined minutes. Khimki's reserves posted 6 points, 7 boards and 4 assists in 44 minutes.
Zalgiris will look to climb into the playoff zone on Thursday when it visits Zenit St. Petersburg. Khimki will have an extra day off before facing Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul at home in an important clash on Friday.