It was not easy and it was not always pretty, but Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar started Evgeny Pashutin's new stint as the team's head coach with a win and kept its chances to qualify for the Top 16 in its own hands. By downing Partizan NIS Belgrade 83-76 on Wednesday night, Lokomotiv set up a winner-take-all clash with Tofas Bursa in Round 10.
"There is no time to celebrate because we need to win one more game," forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas warned immediately after the game. However, after a four-game losing streak that dropped the team to a 2-5 record last month, Lokomotiv now has two wins in a row and momentum going into that regular-season finale.
It was not a consistent defensive effort last night, but in the end, it was the defense that won it for Lokomotiv in the end. The hosts held a 67-66 lead after 30 minutes and then held Partizan scoreless for more than 3 minutes and to just 2 points in more than 5 minutes. That one visitors' basket was a fastbreak layup that developed after a fantastic blocked shot by Partizan's Will Mosley.
Lokomotiv did not allow anything against its set defense. Partizan had eight possessions in those opening 5 minutes of the fourth quarter and Lokomotiv allowed just 4 field goal attempts and forced 4 turnovers.
"When you have 21 turnovers on the road against this kind of quality team, you don't have a chance to win," Partizan head coach Andrea Trinchieri stressed at the press conference after the game. "Even when you play defense, if you turn the ball over 21 times, there is no chance. That is the key of the game."
To keep its EuroCup campaign alive and move into Top 16, Lokomotiv will need a similar effort next week.
"I think we played with heart today; that is the most important thing," Pashutin said. "We made one step to the Top 16, but have an important game on the road where we have to prepare well. We have to give the same energy, same physicality and play smart offensively."