CSKA withstands huge Olympiacos rally
CSKA Moscow escaped from Piraeus with a hard-fought 74-75 win against Olympiacos on Thursday night. Two free throws by Mike James with 3 seconds remaining aborted an incredible comeback by the Reds, who trailed by 25 points (26-51) early in the third quarter and 49-65 with 8 minutes to go. CSKA, whose record improved to 17-8, was led by James, who tallied 15 points and 6 assists. He was followed by Johannes Voigtmann, who contributed 14 points in less than 20 minutes, while debutant Iffe Lundberg and Joel Bolomboy had 13 and 10, respectively. Shaquielle McKissic registered career-highs in points (24) and steals (4) and Sasha Vezenkov had 14 points and 7 rebounds for the Reds, who lost their sixth game in a row and fell to 11-15.
The hosts needed almost 5 minutes to score their first basket until Vezenkov hit a three-pointer, which CSKA used to build a 3-8 edge midway through the first quarter. Octavius Ellis and Vezenkov were the only players able to contribute for the Reds, which proved too short against a more balanced CSKA offense. Voigtmann nailed a deep three right after stepping on court and added an alley-oop layup to highlight a 0-10 run that made it 12-24 after 10 minutes. Although Aaron Harrison opened the second quarter with a triple, Olympiacos kept trying to reduce the gap from long distance without success. A layup by Michael Eric and a corner three by Voigtmann extended the difference to 15-29, then to 19-34 after the latter added another fastbreak bucket off a steal. Baskets were few and far between for the home team, allowing CSKA to stay comfortably on top. A couple of behind-the-arc hits from Lundberg helped the visitors reach halftime leading 26-44.
Voigtmann made it a 20-point game right after the break, and the trend didn’t stop here. Bolomboy connected from downtown to dig it deeper and James scored a difficult floater to set a 26-51 margin 3 minutes into the second half. McKissic came to the rescue with 12 points in a row to keep the hosts breathing, 38-53, as CSKA struggled against the Reds’ switching defense. The hosts didn’t allow a field goal for more than 6 minutes, as Vezenkov and Sloukas took the reins on offense to reduce the disadvantage to 49-59 entering the last quarter. The visitors found some relief after Lundberg and Will Clyburn scored back-to-back layups, which James followed with a bank shot to make it 49-65, but the hosts didn’t panic. McKissic and Vassilis Spanoulis drilled 1 triple each to bring Olympiacos within 55-65 with less than 8 minutes remaining, and the former provided consecutive dunks to cap a 15-0 run that made it a one-possession game, 64-65. The rally didn’t stop here, as a floater by Printezis and a three-pointer by Vezenkov put the hosts in front for the first time, 69-68, with 3 minutes left. Then James took over and became the go-to-guy for CSKA again. First, he connected on a deep three to reanimate his team, 69-71, and took over again drawing a foul and converting 2 out of 3 free throws right after Georgios Printezis returned the lead to Olympiacos 74-73, with 12 seconds to go.
After almost three weeks without playing with his team, Mike James played a decisive role in CSKA’s win. Even though he did not have a great scoring night, he took over when things were on the line, scoring 5 of his team’s last 7 points, including a deep three and 2 free-throws to win the game.
Miraculous (and failed) comeback
Olympiacos head coach Georgios Bartzokas asked his players for more physicality at halftime and even though the third quarter started in a bad way for them, it was Shaquielle McKissic who lit the fire with 13 consecutive points after halftime that resurrected the Reds. Later, a 20-1 run in the fourth quarter put Olympiacos in front, for the first time after 37 minutes. But then James showed up…
The hosts had a poor shooting display all over the game, and that limited their options. They went 3 of 18 in the first half and 9 of 37 overall (24%). Taking into account that Olympiacos shot more from three (37) than from two (28), that lack of accuracy was definitive.
Olympiacos’s loss prevented Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis from celebrating fully, as the former played his 350th career EuroLeague game and the latter tied Ante Tomic for the most two-pointers scored (1,137) in competition history.
Both squads will hit the road in Round 27 next week. CSKA Moscow will visit Tel Aviv to face Maccabi Playtika on Tuesday, March 2. Olympiacos will travel to Spain to challenge TD Systems Baskonia the following evening.
Thursday, February 25, 2021