The opening half of Errick McCollum’s first game in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague for two and a half years did not exactly go to plan.
The shooting guard was back in the competition after signing on for Khimki Moscow Region, having most recently appeared for former club Anadolu Efes Istanbul with a 21-point haul to inspire a road victory over Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in April 2018. McCollum had showed his ability throughout that season by averaging 14.6 points per game, and he went on to have two strong seasons in the 7DAYS EuroCup with UNICS Kazan to earn his place back in the continent’s elite competition with the move to Khimki.
At half-time of his debut in Friday’s home game against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, though, McCollum had missed a two-point shot, committed a turnover, drawn a foul, scored 1 of 2 free throw attempts and…that was it. There was nothing else to show for his six minutes on the floor.
But McCollum clearly spent the interval focusing hard on how he could make a bigger impact after the break, because he came out as a man transformed in the third quarter. His first statement of intent came on the defensive end, as he jumped high to make a great block on Langston Hall’s shot. And McCollum returned later in the quarter to convert that defense into offense, as he scored six points in the space of three minutes at a time when Khimki was desperately struggling to find its way to the hoop – in fact, his pair of two-pointers were the only field goals converted by his team in the entire quarter.
That, however, was just the prelude because the fourth quarter was simply taken over by the debutant. He started off by scoring Khimki’s first basket of the final period, firing his team into a 61-60 lead which he immediately extended with a two-pointer. From that moment, the shots just kept on dropping: he took on five more shots and made them all, playing the key role as Khimki pulled clear of a spirited Zvezda challenge to claim its long-awaited first win of the season.
McCollum’s final tally of a game-high 23 points speaks for itself, and it also suggests that Khimki has found a new dimension to an offense which has previously relied on Alexey Shved’s scoring heroics perhaps a little too much. Indeed, Shved’s performance on Friday night was more notable for his distribution (12 assists) than his scoring (15 points on 3-of-10 field goal shooting).
This is very welcome news to Head Coach Rimas Kurtinaitis, who gave a straightforward assessment of McCollum’s debut and suggested he fully expects a lot more to come. "Errick is great, that’s why we signed him," he stated. "We always needed help from the bench and he did a great job today."
If this start to his Khimki career is anything to go by, the Russian team will be a very different proposition from this moment forward.