The ongoing dominance of CSKA Moscow, which is making its 14th Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four appearances in 15 years, may go down as one of the most impressive eras of success that any club has enjoyed in any sport ever. During that period, the Russian giant has been led by five different coaches and featured several generations of players. With only one exception, CSKA has always achieved the same outcome: a place in the Final Four and a serious title challenge.
This year, Coach Dimitris Itoudis is aiming to lead his troops to the first back-to-back European championship in the club's proud history. CSKA arrives in Istanbul after an outstanding regular season that started in dominant fashion with 12 wins in the first 13 games. Although that pace could not be maintained, CSKA finished the regular season second in the standings with a 22-8 record, having averaged more points than any other team, 86.9 per game. That feat was achieved through a strong team ethic on offense, as CSKA ranked second in assists. Those ball-sharing tendencies helped CSKA's shooters top the EuroLeague in three-point accuracy and rank second in efficiency from inside the arc, as well.
Once again, CSKA relied on backcourt virtuosos Nando De Colo and Milos Teodosic to make its offensive music. While De Colo, the previous season's EuroLeague and Final Four MVP, was the regular season's best player in average performance index rating, Teodosic was the runaway leader in assists.
An intense playoffs series against Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz proved that CSKA is much more than just two superstars, however. Teodosic was instrumental in Game 1, combining 22 points with 5 assists in an exciting 98-90 home win. When Game 2 came down to the wire, the decisive figure was experienced big man Kyle Hines, who sealed an 84-82 victory with last-second free throws. In Spain for Game 3, Cory Higgins came to the fore with 21 points before last season's Best Defender Award winner, Hines, iced an 88-90 victory – and a 3-0 series sweep – with a key block on the final buzzer.
CSKA now chases its eighth European crown and does so with the confidence of a reigning champion. It also has the added motivation of a score to settle in Istanbul, following its dramatic championship-game defeat against Olympiacos Piraeus – its semifinal opponent this time – when the Final Four was last held in the city, five years ago. Fired by a historic opportunity to repeat as EuroLeague champion – and to erase a bad memory in the process – expect to see CSKA in peak form on the stage it has called its own for 15 years.
Road to Istanbul
1. CSKA opens its title defense by crushing 7DAYS EuroCup champ Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul on the road 84-109 to set a club record for points scored.
2. Despite missing MVP Nando De Colo due to injury, CSKA betters that new single-game scoring record by defeating Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz 112-86 in Round 9.
3. Without injured Milos Teodosic, CSKA suffers a three-game losing streak, including its only home defeat all season, to Fenerbahce Istanbul in overtime, and loses sole possession of first place.
4. A four-game winning streak allows the defending champs to become the first team to qualify to the playoffs with five games remaining in the regular season.
5. Two free throws by Kyle Hines with one second remaining in Game 2 against Baskonia lets CSKA to improve to 2-0 in the playoffs with a close 84-82 home win!