|28 November 2012|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Averaging 12.4 rebounds per game, Ömer Asik is the fourth-best rebounder in the NBA|
Tuesday night's encounter between the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors, an otherwise unremarkable NBA Regular Season game, constitutes a minor milestone in Lithuania's proud basketball history.
To be more precise, it turned into that 1:03 before the final buzzer, when Houston substituted all five players and Donatas Motiejunas stepped on the floor for the first time in the game.
His compatriots Linas Kleiza and Jonas Valanciunas (12 points, 5 rebounds) had already played their part on the visiting Toronto side, featuring approximately six and 32 minutes, respectively.
The entrance of the 22-year-old Rockets center, in only his second appearance in his rookie season, marked the first time three Lithuanian players coincided in an NBA game.
Motiejunas did not score during his limited time on the court but he was no doubt the happiest Lithuanian in Texas on Tuesday, as the Rockets won 117-101.
Three more European players inadvertently witnessed this minor historical moment for a relatively tiny country with a population of roughly three million people.
Italy's Andrea Bargnani (a team-high 21 points and four rebounds) and Spain's Jose Manuel Calderon (12 points, seven assists) played for Toronto, and Ömer Asik was on the Rockets team.
The Turkish center spoiled the Lithuanian party by stealing the limelight.
Asik dominated on the boards, collecting a double-double of 13 points (on 6-for-9 shooting) and 18 rebounds, and added two steals and two assists.
It was his seventh double-double in the best month of his NBA career so far.
More importantly, Asik is now the fourth-leading rebounder in the entire league, averaging 12.4 boards per game.
There is little doubt that leaving the Chicago Bulls for Houston in the off season was a great move for the 26-year-old Turkish center.
In his two seasons at Chicago, Asik started only two games, playing on average 12 minutes in his rookie season and 14.7 minutes last year.
This season, in his first month in a Rockets jersey, he is a starter, averages 32.9 minutes on the court and has 10.4 points and 1.2 blocks per game, on top of his enormous contribution in rebounds.
"I tried to tell you guys a long time ago - he's good," Houston's Jeremy Lin told the media about his Turkish team-mate after the game.
"There's no other way to say it. He can really play.
"We're excited because we already know what he can do defensively, with what he's doing offensively, too, oh man - it makes us so much more dangerous."
After Tuesday's victory Houston improved to 7-7 and are now occupying for the first time a play-off spot in the Western Conference.
Toronto on the other hand have now lost five in a row and are at 3-12 in the East.