In a battle of powerhouses, CSKA Moscow squeezed past Real Madrid on Thursday night in the Russian capital. The statistics would say it was an improbable victory. In its 74-73 win, CSKA had just 4 assists to Real's 18. CSKA had more turnovers, 10 to 6, and Real had 6 blocks while CSKA had only 1.
CSKA, however, had Mike James.
"He gave today what was needed to give", CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis said in the press conference after the game. "He was always a threat."
James finished with 28 points, but he did something not often seen at such a high level of competition. James scored each of the last 14 CSKA points. The hosts scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, with Toko Shengelia scoring a basket after 60 seconds of play in the final stanza. The rest until the end of the game, for CSKA, was all James.
He started his run with 6:15 left in the game with a triple to give CSKA a 63-61 lead, and he hit another from long range on the ensuing CSKA possession. James followed it with a runner high off the glass and then made a circus shot to give CSKA a 70-66 edge with 3:30 left.
But Real held CSKA without a basket until the hosts' final trip down the floor as the visitors took a 70-71 lead. Real also forced James into a missed triple on that final possession, but Nikola Milutinov tipped the ball, Daniel Hackett hustled to get an offensive board and connected with Will Clybirn, who found James in the left corner, where he side-stepped to make a triple and draw a foul with 2.5 seconds left in regulation. James hit a free throw to make it a 3-point game and CSKA prevailed.
It might have not been pretty, but it was CSKA's sixth consecutive win.
"We had several targets and several things we prepared before the game", Itoudis explained. "We could have been better if Darrun [Hilliard] would hit his shots, he was 1 of 5. Also if Toko would hit his shots, he was also 1 of 5 [for three], and Will [Clyburn] was 2 of 6 [for three]. We were not shooting the ball well, so we had to choose a different way to win the game. Definitely, Mike had a good night and he was very crucial.
James carried the team on his shoulders, and in the process became the season's scoring leader, now averaging 19.5 points per game. This was his highest-scoring performance of the season and the third consecutive game in which he scored 25 or more points. However, Coach Itoudis insists this is not the best we can see from James.
"He can play much better", Itoudis claimed. "He has this quality, he also practices like that, a lot of times he is making tough shots."
Those tough shots lifted CSKA to victory on Thursday night.