Zenit defeated VEF at home in Game 1 of the playoff quarterfinals, 93-81 (26-15, 24-26, 23-21, 20-19)
Zenit: Aaron White (18+9 reb), Demonte Harper (15), Sergey Karasev (14), Stefan Markovic (13+11 ast+5 reb)
VEF: Janis Blums (16), Mareks Mejeris (12+8 reb)
Zenit won both regular season meetings, including a nine-point win in Riga in early February.
Early on, St. Petersburg set the tone on offense, outscoring the visitors 14-2 during a five-minute stretch late in the 1st quarter. Sergey Karasev led the way with a pair of 3-pointers and Zenit cruised into the 2nd quarter with an 11-point lead.
VEF occasionally threatened in the 2nd, cutting the deficit to eight, 44-36, on a Janis Blums 3-pointer. But the visitors could never get into a rhythm. Zenit found ways to get to the line, even when the offense slowed, and remained in front by nine at halftime.
The home team appeared to put the game away midway through 3rd quarter, pushing the lead to 18 on an Aaron White dunk.
VEF, however, continued to battle, knocking down a couple 3-pointers and stymieing the Zenit attack to close within nine points late in the period.
After Mejeris scored on a layup and Kristopher Richard drained a 3-pointer on the wing, Riga trailed by just seven points with 5:32 remaining.
Zenit needed a response and got it from two unlikely heroes. Aaron White, who finished with a game-high 18 points, drained a pair of free throws, before Demonte Harper connected on a ‘3’, then picked off a pass for a fast-break dunk to stretch the lead to 14.
That would be it for VEF, who competed hard, but couldn’t quite overcome the slow start. Zenit now looks to Wednesday for a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
13-30 – Despite giving up 93 points, VEF had a legitimate chance to steal a road win in Game 1. Unfortunately for the visitors, they shot only 13-30 from the free-throw line (43%), throwing away too many easy points.
Zenit vs VEF Game 1 one minute highlights 📹 pic.twitter.com/kXmtRMF9Qz
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) May 1, 2017
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
– It’s nice to win the first game of the playoffs. There’s a totally different energy and excitement. Plenty of things didn’t work and we came up short in a lot of ways. We thoroughly analyzed our opponent, but weren’t good enough on defense. Leading by 15 points we relaxed and VEF punished us immediately.
VEF head coach Janis Gailitis:
– We weren’t very good on defense, especially at the beginning of the game, when we gave up a lot of defensive rebounds. Zenit got 17 offensive rebounds. But the biggest thing is that my players can’t shoot that poorly at the free-throw line in a playoff game. We missed 17 of 30 shots. I don’t think even Shaq was ever that bad. I don’t believe we have five Shaq’s on our roster. But we battled, showed character and we’ll continue to battle in the next game.
Wednesday, May 3 at 8:00 PM, St. Petersburg