Laboral Kutxa got the 2014-15 Euroleague underway by beating Neptunas Klaipeda 88-69 in Vitoria on Wednesday night.
However, despite the double-digit margin of victory, the Liga Endesa side did not have things their own way as the Lithuanian newcomers held nothing back and played structured basketball at times, especially in the first half, where Laboral Kutxa only led 37-30 and at times, lacked team chemistry.
Then in the third quarter, the hosts’ class began to shine and Neptunas struggled to handle Laboral’s offensive execution and defensive toughness. The Spaniards led 61-50 and from there the visitors tired themselves out. The effort and commitment that the Lithuanians had in the first half, evaporated in the final quarter as the team looked drained and worn down.
Davis Bertans led the winners with 20 points, with Thomas Heurtel following up from his excellent World Cup with France by adding 13 points and 10 assists in a majestic display of guard-orientated basketball.
“We had to win this game whatever it took and when you are in that position, when the win is a must, it’s never hard to play well and easy,” Laboral coach Marco Crespi said. “I’m satisfied because of three factors, mainly. First of all, because they hit just four times from the three-point line, and we knew that they have many players able to hit from downtown. Second, Heurtel has played a very good game, looking for teams best, trying to make the team play together. And third, I think that Davis Bertans and Fernando San Emeterio did a good job defensively, especially on the weak side when we tried to put pressure on the ball.
“We controlled the game more than we did in previous days, we played a more intense defense on the ball, denying any good shots. We cannot play well right now, but we can and we must play serious, and I saw a lot of players tonight doing their best to play serious.”
Despite defeat, Neptunas look a useful side, and by no means look out of place in the Euroleague. Donatas Zavackas paced them with 17 points and 7 rebounds.
We fought until we burnt, it was our first game in the Euroleague, we are getting used to long trips and lack experience this competition,” Klaipeda coach Kazys Maksvytis said. “We are a shooting team, and we depend on our emotions. On defense, we allowed a lot of easy points because of the physical difference. We committed too many simple mistakes on defense. We can improve and play better.”