Composure and believing in your teammates do not figure in even the most advanced statistics. And neither tend to make it into highlight reels. But composure and self-belief were very much on the minds of CSKA Moscow's players and coaches after they dodged a bullet and escaped Lithuania with a hard-fought and much-needed 79-84 victory over host Zalgiris Kaunas on Friday.
CSKA had come to Kaunas for Round 16 having dropped its last three road games and four of the previous five. In the first two seasons under the 30-game format, CSKA didn't lose its fifth road games until Round 21 and Round 29, respectively. A fifth loss now would have come at least three rounds sooner than in either of those seasons, and for a moment on Friday, that looked very possible.
CSKA had led by as many as 13 points in the first half and was still ahead by double digits at halftime, 34-44. But a 21-7 Zalgiris outburst over 7 minutes to end the third quarter changed everything, and early in the fourth, the hosts held a 63-57 lead.
That's when CSKA mounted an exercise in mental fortitude that decided the game, outscoring Zalgiris 16-27 the rest of the way. Swing forward Will Clyburn, held to 5 points until then, scored 14 in the game's last 7 minutes and assisted Daniel Hackett on the three-pointer that sealed the deal. Neither had a doubt that that their team won by not losing its cool.
"Basically, everybody kept believing throughout the game," Clyburn said. "There were ups and downs. Everyone went on their runs. That third quarter, we let them back in it. But we kept our composure, kept playing, kept fighting and that was the key to the game."
"I'm very proud of how we played as a team, coming in here, fighting, staying together," Hackett said. "In the fourth quarter, we were good, we were solid and we got some crucial stops to get the game."
Their head coach, Dimitris Itoudis, could not have agreed more.
"We were trying to keep our composure throughout the game. We were expecting Zalgiris would try full-court pressure. That third quarter could have cost us," Itoudis said. "My players, regarding the turnaround and the fact that Zalgiris took the lead, they kept believing in our game."