A Lithuanian producer Rimvydas Cekavicius is shooting a video documentary about Paulius Jankunas. But even he couldn't script what happened in the EuroLeague legend's farewell game.

Player of the Game
Lukas  Lekavičius
Lukas Lekavičius
Points 17
Accuracy 5-11
Rebounds 2
Assists 7

Zalgiris Kaunas lost the third quarter by 20 (15-35), and Jankunas' farewell game was slipping away.

After scoring 2 points and grabbing four rebounds in the first half, Jankunas didn't even show up on the court after halftime. Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade erased the double-digit deficit and were about to ruin the party.

Zalgiris fans were mad about what they saw. Their team blew the lead, and the man of the night, which brought more than 10k fans into Zalgirio arena on an unusual Sunday night, was warming the bench.

"I thought I won't return to the court. Or I will return only in the last minute with the game already decided," Jankunas, 37, revealed in the post-game press conference.

But his good old friend, who invited him to the first basketball practice when Jankunas was 11, couldn't let it go this way.

Mantas Kalnietis was sitting on the corner of Zalgiris bench, next to other injured players Joffrey Lauvergne, Janis Strelnieks, and the GM Paulius Motiejunas. The veteran point guard wasn't registered for the game. But he stood up for his friend when it mattered.

Kalnietis approached Zalgiris' assistants and asked them to get Jankunas back on the court. Well, it was not a request but rather an order.

Zalgiris were down by two (73-75), but making this night special for Jankunas was way more important than the scoreboard of the last regular-season game that didn't have any difference for Zalgiris' situation in the standings. They were dead last anyways.

After a short discussion, Jure Zdovc called his 19-year EuroLeague veteran off the bench with less than 5 minutes to play.

Paulius Jankūnas

Paulius  Jankūnas
Team: Zalgiris Kaunas
Position: PF, C
Age: 37
Height: 205 cm
Weight: 107 kg
Birth place: Kaunas, Lithuania

"I saw that situation. I think they would have let me play either way. But Mantas influenced that substitution. He got me to basketball, and now he took me away from it," Jankunas smiled.

"They played small, with very athletic and quick guys at a five. We were switching, and we don't switch with Jankunas," Zdovc explained why Jankunas spent almost the entire second half on the bench.

"Honestly, I was afraid. He spent 15 minutes on the bench in the second half, and if things go wrong... But on the other side, we had nothing to lose. Also, Jankunas deserved to finish the game. And it worked," Zdovc added.

Kalnietis gave his friend a standing ovation with 10k fans, who came to Zalgirio arena on Sunday to give well-deserved respect to the EuroLeague all-time leader in total rebounds, defensive rebounds, games played, and games started.

Soon after checking in, Jankunas hit a three-pointer that tied the game 78-78.

But that was not enough. Crvena Zvezda were determined to come back to Serbia with a rare away win. With 15 seconds to play, Jankunas fouled Ognjen Dobric and sent him to the free-throw line. Crvena Zvezda forward increased the lead to 87-82 and silenced the crowd. In 99 of 100 cases, the game was over. But not this night.

Another good long-time friend Arturas Milaknis hit a quick off-balance three to cut the margin 85-87 with 9 seconds remaining. 

Dejan Davidovac missed one free throw and left Zalgiris 7.5 seconds to survive (85-88).

Lukas Lekavicius did a fantastic job putting Nikola Kalinic on a dance floor where the Serb couldn't make an intentional foul on time.

Dobric tried to stop this little Zalgiris guy with a foul too, but Lekavicius made a quick pass to Tyler Cavanaugh.

He pump-faked once and saw Kalinic flying by with 2.5 seconds to play. He dribbled again and got Dobric jumping on another pump-fake. And just at the buzzer, the underrated hero of the game sank the 3-point shot that fired up the noisy Zalgirio arena that wasn't so loud since the Final Four season in 2017-18.

Overtime became Jankunas' private party, scoring six consecutive points at the beginning of it.

At first, he beat Davidovac on the low post, leaving his opponent behind and complaining about the offensive foul that was never called. The next time Davidovac tried to be more physical but heard the whistle that put him on the bench for good. He was fouled out.

Jankunas hit only the second free throw, but soon he got the revenge. He popped beyond the arc, didn't receive respect from Zvezda's defense, and punished them with authority to increase the lead to 94-90.

Mantas Kalnietis and Joffrey Lauvergne proudly applauded their teammate. Of course, they also mimicked his signature moves drawing fouls.

"The way he always drew fouls was terrible. You couldn't touch him," Printezis laughed in an interview with BasketNews after his last match-up with Jankunas.

Edgaras Ulanovas added a step-back 3-pointer, Jankunas drew a foul again, and the game was decided (99-92). 

"We planned to feed him with the ball. He deserved that. It was his game," Ulanovas said after the game. "You all saw what happened. He was drawing these fouls. You saw Zvezda players. They didn't understand what was happening. But Paulius is a smart veteran. He knows how to put his body. His impact was incredible."

"Our energy was going down. We played with a short rotation, and we lacked energy. Do you know when the young player comes and boosts the team? That's what Paulius did in the overtime.

He gave us fresh air. He was a freaking important part of this victory. I'm very happy for him. It was a fantastic farewell game. We can all be glad that we witnessed the EuroLeague legend in front of us," Ulanovas added.

With 39.2 seconds to play in the extra time, Zdovc benched Jankunas for one last time.

Credit BNS

All Zalgiris team and home crowd gave him a standing ovation. He already put the fans on their feet with his performance in crunch time. He scored 11 points in less than the last 10 minutes. 

"I was ready," Jankunas said, scoring a total of 13 points, just like his jersey number.

That was the second-highest scoring performance among the other EuroLeague veterans who played the last game. Only La Bomba, Juan Carlos Navarro, scored more than Jankunas in his farewell game (17 PTS vs. Khimki).

Soon after the final whistle that officially ended the 19-year EuroLeague career, Zalgiris players grabbed Jankunas and threw him in the air.

"Thank you! Thank you!" fans were shouting.

Soon Jankunas received a game ball from his teammate Milaknis.

"Now it's yours," a 35-year-old veteran smiled.

"The following day, I will have to get all the signatures. I will put it in an important place in my house," Jankunas said happily.

"I didn't expect such hype for this game, so thank you all for coming. I thought that people would focus on my last LKL game because my career didn't end yet. We still have to fight for the LKL title," Jankunas added diplomatically, as he always does.

There was a big celebration in Zalgiris locker room.

Green and whites got a few days off after the EuroLeague season finale. So there was plenty of time to celebrate their captain's farewell game.

Zalgiris finished last in this disappointing EuroLeague season, full of changes and scrutiny. But even all these challenges didn't split this special bond they always had inside the locker room.

Mostly thanks to their captain Jankunas, who managed to help these guys to forget everything and celebrate like champions, at least for another night.

"We're exhausted like hell. We need some time off. But we'll go to drink a beer or two for Paulius. To thank him for everything," Ulanovas was proud of his captain.

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Zalgiris Kaunas
Crvena Zvezda Belgrade
Field goals

Best players

Edgaras  Ulanovas
18 PTS
7/12 FG
2/2 FT
Ognjen  Dobric
21 PTS
7/17 FG
4/6 FT
Zalgiris Kaunas
Few players
Nikola  Kalinic
Lukas  Lekavičius
7 As
4 TO
36 MIN
Nate  Wolters
7 As
1 TO
25 MIN
Lukas  Lekavičius
26 EFF
50% 2P%
33% 3P%
Ognjen  Dobric
23 EFF
40% 2P%
43% 3P%