CSKA Moscow struggled when Will Clyburn went down to a knee injury earlier this season, but has managed to redistribute roles and remain effective. Most recently, the defending Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champions brought in a very different small forward - not just different from Clyburn, but a one-of-a-kind player who has already showcased his all-around skills while helping Darussafaka Istanbul win the 7DAYS EuroCup title.
Howard Sant-Roos has allowed CSKA to be more aggressive, take a step forward on defense and, most importantly, be even more competitive. CSKA approached the Leningradka Derby against Khimki Moscow Region with care. Earlier this month, Khimki downed CSKA 96-80 in VTB United League action. Khimki scored 22 of 37 two-point shots in that game with 23 assists and just 8 turnovers.
From the very beginning of this game, it was crystal clear that it was going to be a very different game. CSKA collapsed the paint and ran its offense through Mike James and Johannes Voigtmann. Sant-Roos became the jack-of-all-trades, diving for loose balls on defense, being effective on offense and giving CSKA an unprecedented level of activity at both ends.
CSKA led 32-40 at halftime, limiting its opponent to just 2-of-12 two-point shooting (16.7%) and pulling down 22 rebounds before the break. Head coach Dimitris Itoudis's team returned to action even more focused and Sant-Roos showed all of his virtues in an 0-8 run that broke the game open; he dove to save a backcourt violation, allowing James to silence the crowd one of the most outstanding dunks of the season. He soon added a jumper off the dribble and, before Khimki could react, CSKA led 36-53 and the game was over.
Sant-Roos hit turnaround shots to beat the buzzer and was seemingly all over the place, finishing the game with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals and 2 fouls drawn for a PIR of 18. His 5 steals tied the second-best mark in the EuroLeague this season. Voigtmann had 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds and James scored 21.
When the dust settled, CSKA had outrebounded Khimki 30-46. Despite missing 34 field goal attempts, Khimki was only able to pull down 6 offensive rebounds, which say plenty about CSKA's defensive strength under the boards. Those 7 two-point shots made are the second-worst mark by Khimki in 160 EuroLeague games and its least shots made inside the arc since hitting 6 against Armani Jeans Milano on November 12, 2009.
CSKA grabbed its fifth consecutive win and took another step not only toward the EuroLeague Playoffs, but toward home-court advantage in that stage for the 15th time in 16 seasons since the playoff format was adopted in 2005. On the other hand, Khimki is just 1-6 in the last seven games and will need a big comeback in the final 12 regular-season games.
Sant-Roos showed the kind of push he can provide CSKA and this definitely good news for the champs... and bad news for every other contender.