VTB United League
In a rescheduled Week 5 regular-season contest, Khimki Moscow Region defeated CSKA Moscow on the road, 92-87. From the opening tip to the final horn, the game was closely contested and physical. The two league favorites put on a tremendous basketball show, with the gutsy Khimki club celebrating a victory. The win is Khimki’s 8th-straight, while the Army Men lose their first of the VTB United League season.
The two bitter rivals finally met again after last spring’s thrilling five-game playoff semifinal series. Basketball fans had been waiting for the game even since it became known that CSKA and Khimki had been drawn in the same VTB United League regular-season group. The players didn’t let them down.
Both teams had some losses entering the contest – CSKA couldn’t count on Jeremy Pargo or Victor Khryapa, while Khimki was missing Egor Vyaltsev and Paul Davis. Kresimir Loncar started at center in place of Davis, and had an impact from the start. The Croat helped out on fast breaks and had scored eight points within two and a half minutes, leading Ettore Messina to call time. Following the break, the Army Men woke up and between attacking the basket on offense just as aggressively as their rivals.
In eerily similar fashion, both clubs began firing away from outside, though CSKA also had Alexander Kaun to rely on down low. Thanks to the versatility and lack of turnovers, the Muscovites pulled back within three points by the end of the exciting first quarter, 27-24.
In the second quarter, CSKA upped the pressure and fairly quickly seized the momentum. But Rimas Kurtinaitis brought Loncar back out on the court and he continued his stellar play around the basket. 6-6 from the field in the first half (14 points), the Croat kept Khimki in the game. Still, the Army Men had the lead at halftime.
Milos Teodosic was especially effective. The inventive Serbian point guard drew his defenders’ attention, then set up great opportunities for his teammates with his passing. Moscow Region got into foul trouble, five times giving the Red and Blue an extra opportunity at the free-throw line following a made field goal. Thanks to a five-point advantage in the second quarter, CSKA held a 46-44 lead at halftime.
CSKA and Khimki entered the game with perfect records (7-0) and neither wanted to back down. Though Kaun, excellent from the field all night, gave the Army Men a nice lead in the second half, Kurtinaitis’s men quickly fought back, led by Marko Popovic from outside and the unstoppable Kresimir Loncar. Mike Green’s paint penetration even briefly gave the visitors the lead, though CSKA closed out the third quarter in style, holding onto a 68-65 advantage.
Midway through the fourth quarter, CSKA’s perimeter threats put an end to what had been an even exchange of points. Vladimir Micov and Vitaly Fridzon hit 3-pointers back to back to put CSKA up five points with less than six minutes to play.
But Khimki had a response. The Yellow and Blue doubled their efforts on defense, literally latching on to their opponents, especially in the paint. With the defense and rebounding secure, Khimki began picking up steam at the other end – Popovic and Petteri Koponen made it anyone’s ball game with a couple minutes to play. But the turning point came on James Augustine’s basket and foul. Loncar scored soon after and Khimki went ahead by six points. The Army Men’s desperate comeback efforts were in vain – only one of their 3-pointers went in, while Khimki made its free throws. Moscow Region defeats CSKA in the battle of group leaders. Now there’s just one undefeated club remaining in the VTB United League.
Star of the Game
Kresimir Loncar. Khimki’s success wouldn’t have been possible without the Croatian center who probably played his best game ever for the Moscow Region club – 12-14 from the field and 28 points in 24 minutes. Loncar’s standout performance throughout the contest inspired his teammates, who played their best while he was on the court.
Stat of the Game
16 – number of lead changes. It’s just more proof of how exciting this clash between legendary clubs really was.
CSKA head coach Ettore Messina:
— I congratulate Khimki on an excellent game. We have only ourselves to blame for our troubles. Our defense is second in the Euroleague, where we give up an average of 67 points per game. Today we allowed our opponent to score 92. We lost, while making 55% of our two-point and 40% of our three-point field goals, along with 21 assists. At the same time, our opposition's numbers were 73% and 44%. During halftime I brought it to the team's attention that we were allowing them to shoot about 60% on two-pointers. In the end, the opponent's numbers got up to 73. That means that in the second half they made about 80% of their mid-range shots. You have to really try to defend so poorly. In this type of game, we could have won 100-92. But that's not our style. Defense wins games.
Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis:
— We know CSKA, CSKA knows us, and I'm happy that for the last three years games between the Army Men and Khimki have been 50-50. The home-court factor doesn't exist any more, which speaks to a fairly similar level on both teams. It's hard to surprise one another any more. We follow our opponent, we know their plays, so you just have to play on quality. The key to winning is the quality of defense and offense. Today we showed character, and I'm happy that we, even when we're losing, fight to the end. At the end, trailing by five points, we managed to steal the momentum and win — that's the individual effort of all of our players. With Gelabale, Davis and Vyaltsev's injuries, the guys came together, mobilized and played well. I'm happy that we won the rebounding battle, hit our 3-pointers at a good clip, and also scored under the basket. Kreso Loncar played a brilliant game on offense!
CSKA: Milos Teodosic – 19 points, seven assists; Alexander Kaun – 17 points; Sonny Weems – 13 points, five assists; Nenad Krstic – 11 points.
Khimki: Kresimir Loncar – 28 points; Mike Green – 13 points, 10 assists; James Augustine – 13 points, eight rebounds; Sergey Monia – 13 points; Marko Popovic – 12 points, six assists and steals.