It was a critical battle in the increasingly tight fight to reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague playoffs, with at least six teams involved.
When Khimki Moscow Region and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul took the floor at Arena Mytishchi, a high-scoring game was expected because Khimki always plays up-tempo at home and this was the second game of a double-round week. Indeed, things looked like that for a while, as Khimki led 41-40 at the break.
Both teams had traded baskets at full speed, including outstanding dunks by Devin Booker, Joffrey Lauvergne, and above all, Nikola Kalinic, whose first-half slam reverberated all the way back to Istanbul.
It was defense, however, that allowed Khimki to win this game and, as a bonus, take the tie-break advantage between these teams. Fenerbahce had registered a 89-76 home win over Khimki earlier this season, and a late layup by Thomas Robinson allowed Khimki to record a 14-point win, which may be really important at the end of the regular season.
At the center of it all for Khimki was versatile forward Jonas Jerebko, who is showcasing his best basketball lately, giving his team the balance it needed on defense. Jerebko finished the game with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 fouls drawn for a PIR of 27, a new personal best. He helped Khimki outrebound Fenerbahce by 34-26, permitting the guests just 5 offensive boards.
Jerebko has been sensational lately, getting a PIR of 17 or better in each of the last six games. He set a new career-high PIR twice this week, getting 25 against Zalgiris Kaunas and 27 against Fenerbahce. In these six games, Jerebko has averaged 17.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and a PIR of 21.5. Khimki has won four of those six games, too.
Fenerbahce was limited to just 28 second-half points, in what was one of the biggest keys to the game. The visitors struggled to circulate the ball, finishing the game with 13 turnovers and 15 assists. Khimki did much better in those aspects of the game, getting 22 assists and just 11 turnovers. That fluidity on offense allowed Shved to feel comfortable and he delivered: 23 points, 6 assists and a PIR of 24.
Jerebko summarized it really well after the game: everyone knows Khimki can score, but they are especially dangerous when they play good defense. "I am proud of the team, everybody stepped up and it was a great win," Jerebko said. "So we have to take pride on our defense, because our offense is so good that we are always going to get points."
Khimki is allowing 78.0 points on average in wins and as many as 91.9 in losses. After 28 rounds, Khimki holds seventh place and Fenerbahce eighth, both with 13-15 records. Anything can happen, but if Khimki is able to get defensive stops, it can be as dangerous as any other team in this competition.