CSKA Moscow: Back in familiar territory

May 04, 2019 by Euroleague.net Print
CSKA Moscow: Back in familiar territory

After equaling its own EuroLeague record by qualifying for an eighth successive Final Four, CSKA Moscow arrives in Vitoria-Gasteiz with the added bonus of happy recent memories from Fernando Buesa Arena. Against KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in the recent Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs, consecutive road wins in Games 3 and 4 allowed CSKA to overturn a shock Game 2 loss in Moscow and confirm its place among the title contenders. As such, CSKA will resume its title challenge on the same court where it clinched the Final Four berth.

CSKA's season began with head coach Dimitris Itoudis welcoming back the bulk of the previous year's roster. One key addition was veteran guard Daniel Hackett, whose defensive excellence complements the offensive firepower of his backcourt teammates Nando De Colo, Cory Higgins and Sergio Rodriguez. More size was added through forwards Alec Peters and Joel Bolomboy, but otherwise, Itoudis was happy to trust a well-established group of returning stars that included Will Clyburn, Kyle Hines, Othello Hunter, Nikita Kurbanov, Semen Antonov and Andrey Vorontsevich.

CSKA started the regular season with a bang, downing FC Barcelona Lassa by 20 points in the opening round, which heralded an eight-game winning streak that firmly established the Russian Federation giants as one of the teams to beat. Its first loss came in surprising fashion at Buducnost VOLI Podgorica in Round 9, but CSKA bounced straight back by winning at reigning champ Real Madrid behind 24 points from Higgins. Subsequent road losses at Baskonia, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv tested CSKA's resolve, but all doubts were answered with a seven-game winning streak between Rounds 19 and 25.

The highlights of that sequence were sizeable road victories at Barcelona and Olympiacos Piraeus, plus a second triumph of the season over Real, 82-78, at home. A miraculous buzzer-beater by Nick Calathes of Panathinaikos handed CSKA its last regular-season defeat at home in Round 26, but Itoudis's men warmed up for the playoffs with four consecutive victories, including narrow successes over fellow top-half finishers Efes, Fenerbahce and Baskonia.

The star performer in the playoff series against Baskonia was De Colo, the league MVP during CSKA's 2015-16 title campaign, who once again showcased his scoring talents with 28 and 27 points in the decisive Games 3 and 4. De Colo tied for the league lead with three MVP of the Round performances in 2018-19 (Rounds 4 and 21 and Playoffs Game 4). Higgins (Round 6) and Clyburn (Round 19) also appeared on the MVP board this season.

CSKA heads into the Final Four ranked second in the league in scoring, averaging 86.5 points, and in offensive rebounds, with 11.7 per game. It's also third in three-point accuracy, at 39.8%. A full complement of shooting aces in the backcourt, athletic forwards and aggressive big men makes for a power-packed CSKA roster that is targeting the club's eighth European crown.

Road to Vitoria-Gasteiz

1. CSKA Moscow started another assault on the title with an opening night victory over FC Barcelona Lassa 95-75. Cory Higgins dropped in 18 points to trigger an eight-game winning streak.

2. CSKA won 11 of its last 12 regular season games. This string of victories included taking down defending champion Real Madrid and playoff sides FC Barcelona Lassa and Anadolu Efes Istanbul, both on the road.

3. CSKA showed strength and resilience again in Round 28 with a 70-68 win over Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul that was sealed by Will Clyburn's free throws in the last seconds. Clyburn led CSKA with 16 points.

4. The last game of the regular season allowed for a bit of clairvoyance as CSKA rallied in the fourth quarter to edge KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz at home, 82-78, thanks to Clyburn's 16 points. The two teams would meet again in the playoffs.

5. CSKA secured passage to the Final Four in Vitoria-Gasteiz against the team that would have hosted the event, Baskonia, with the second of its two straight road wins in Spain assuring a 3-1 series victory.