Going up against an Anadolu Efes Istanbul team which had blasted 14 three-pointers in Friday’s semifinal demolition of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, it was clear from the very start that CSKA Moscow had decided to meet fire with fire in the Championship Game.
The Russian team’s very first possession saw Nikita Kurbanov receive a pass from Nando De Colo and drain a long-range strike. Will Clyburn made another triple a few minutes later, and Cory Higgins soon followed suit with two downtown strikes in the space of a minute. And the three-pointers kept on flying in, with Daniel Hackett and Higgins scoring from deep.
That flurry of long-range baskets, which saw CSKA make 6 of its first 8 three-point attempts, helped establish a double-digit lead before the end of the first quarter. Perhaps the most notable aspect of that sharpshooting was the fact that four different players had been on target – Kurbanov, Hackett, Clyburn and Higgins – but the team’s leading scorers from three-point range over the course of the season, De Colo and Sergio Rodriguez, had provided precisely zero.
That soon changed as Rodriguez opened the second quarter with another three-pointer, before CSKA’s three-point pace finally dropped as Efes came back into the game. The Turkish team even took the lead after the break, but not for long as De Colo opened his long-range account before Higgins and Clyburn both struck from deep to make it a double-digit game again, 52-63, with four minutes to play in the third.
Just like the second quarter, Rodriguez started off the fourth period’s scoring with a triple, and De Colo soon added another to make it 71-80. Efes was never able to recover from that deficit, and it was clear that CSKA’s prowess from deep had played a major part in deciding the outcome.
At the end of it all, CSKA made 14 of its 22 attempts from long-range, with those 14 conversions tying the Championship Game record – Maccabi Tel Aviv made the same number in its 2004 title game victory over Skipper Bologna. What’s more, the conversion rate of 63.6% set a new record in the Final Four this century.
Final Four MVP Clyburn (4-of-6) and Higgins (4-of-5) led the way, with De Colo (2-of-3) and Rodriguez (2-of-2) both making a pair, while Hackett and Kurbanov added one apiece.
In the immediate aftermath of the victory, Higgins couldn’t offer an explanation for his team’s outstanding long-range shooting performance, stating: “I just think special things happen in the finals because it is a huge moment, big players step up in those type of moments. It is always something special when you get into these kind of pressurized games, and we have a lot of big stars. We love being on this stage, and stars have star performances when light shines the brightest.”
CSKA’s stars certainly shone bright from beyond the arc on Sunday night.