Despite having already lost all chances to qualify for the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Playoffs, Khimki Moscow Region did not lack the motivation to face its Round 32 game against visiting LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne on Wednesday night.
Given that it was its last at home — the next two games will be on the road at CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus, Wednesday’s game turned into a perfect occasion to grant its fans a last chance to celebrate together.
It seemed close after Khimki amassed a 15-point lead early after halftime, but when the visitors rallied back in the fourth quarter and ended up sending the game to overtime behind back-to-back triples by William Howard, many doubted a happy ending was going to come.
"We played hard the whole game, we fought, we never got down on ourselves even when they hit that three to send the game to overtime. We stayed calm and kept playing," Jordan Mickey stressed after securing his team’s 87-85 victory with 3 key free throws that helped Khimki bounce back from a 77-80 deficit in the extra time.
To win a tight game is always a reason for joy, although Khimki Head Coach Andrei Maltsev joked about how hard is to experience it on the bench: " is good for the public, but not so good for me [laughs]. I think we could have won it in regular time, but they got that three in the last second. We played like a team in the overtime."
Furthermore, he was happy because his team was able to say goodbye to its home court and to its fans in the best way possible after a tough and disappointing season: "We got a 2-point win in the end, and it’s for our fans. It was very pleasant to see them on the stands, as it was our last home game… in front of these people and we are happy we did it for them and I think they are happy too."
To make it possible, Khimki found great help from Alexey Shved and Mickey. They combined for 60 points (69% of Khimki's total scoring) to become their team’s main weapons all over the way.
Moreover, they took turns leading the team. Mickey had a terrific first half in which he scored 19 of his total 28 points. On the other hand, Shved got 20 of his 32 in the second. And, when the game went down to the wire, they joined forces to provide 8 of Khimki’s last 10 points in the overtime session.
"[We managed to survive thanks to] defense. We managed to get some stops, we forced some turnovers, and had also some free throws down the stretch," Mickey pointed out after recording a career-high PIR of 36 with 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists. "We did what we had to do to get this victory."
Shved, who scored 25 points after halftime, has an additional motivation factor for the remaining games. With the 32 points he scored against ASVEL, he managed to climb atop the scoring standings with 19.78 points per game. Mike James (19.33), Jordan Loyd (17.44) and Nikola Mirotic are now behind, so no one should be surprised if Shved displays some more great offensive performance in the remaining games.