VEF Latvia defeated Avtodor Russia on the road, 85-83 (24-17, 16-32, 24-18, 21-16).
Avtodor: Perrin Buford (19 + 8 reb), Anthony Ireland (16 + 6 reb + 9 ast), Trae Golden (14), David Kravish (14 + 5 reb)
VEF: Andrejs Grazulis (18), Mareks Mejeris (17), Baden Jaxen (16), Steve Zack (10 + 7 reb), Jabril Durham (7 + 8 reb + 11 ast + 3 stl)
This game marked Avtodor head coach Dusan Alimpijevic’s debut in the VTB United League. Surprisingly, Avtodor opened the game at a slower-than-normal tempo, which played in VEF’s hands. The visitors made fewer turnovers (1 vs. 6), shot a higher percentage (47% vs. 36%) and dominated in the paint (16 points). Two big dunks from Mareks Mejeris capped the quarter, giving VEF a 24-17 lead.
Avtodor got going in the 2nd quarter, speeding up the pace, while defending the paint more aggressively and forcing seven VEF turnovers. Golden, Buford and Ireland combined for 31 points, helping the home team seize control at halftime, 49-40.
The 2nd half opened with two triples from Buford and Ireland, 55-40. But the home team failed to capitalize on its big lead. VEF once again slowed the tempo, found success in the paint and started knocking down open 3’s. By the end of the 3rd quarter, VEF trailed by only one possession, 67-64.
3-pointers from Grazulis, Mejeris and Jaxen helped the visitors storm ahead in the 4th quarter, 83-81. Ireland tied the game with a layup, giving Riga the final possession. But Avtodor decided to intentionally foul in order to get the ball back, sending Durham to the line. The American guard drained both freebies, 85-83. At the other end, Golden missed an open 3-pointer and VEF escaped with a big win on the road.
Avtodor has not lost twice to playoff hopefuls at home, previously falling to Tsmoki-Minsk.
Jabril Durham did not score many points, but he finished with the highest efficiency rating (21). In addition to his seven points, the guard recorded 11 assists, eight rebounds and three steals. Perhaps most importantly, he hit the game-winning free throws in the final seconds.
12-25 (48%) – 3-point shooting was the key to VEF’s win.
VEF head coach Janis Gailitis: “Congratulations to my team. The guys showed heart and won a tough game. We started strong, but were very poor on defense in the 2nd quarter. On the one hand, we got lucky at the end. Golden missed an open 3-pointer. At the same time, we did a lot of things well in today’s game and deserved this win. There were moments today when we were aggressive either on defense or on offense. Once we managed to stabilize our play on both ends of the court, we shifted the momentum in the meeting.”
Avtodor head coach Dusan Alimpijevic: “VEF clearly had more energy. They were more focused and motivated to win. I was very surprised by the situation on our team. We need some truly severe changes, but it takes time. It’s impossible to understand and accept how any of us could have less energy, playing at home, than the visiting players. We need to change everything about our approach. Now we will have two weeks and need to use the break to get better. Once again, I want to thank the spectators and fans for the support, especially in key moments of the game. Of course, I need to apologize to them because we did not meet their expectations today. Missing the last shot is only one part of the game. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. Golden had a good opportunity for an open 3-pointer, but unfortunately missed. In reality, the issue was not the final shot, but everything that happened before.”