CSKA's newcomers helped assure their victorious debuts

Feb 26, 2021 by Euroleague.net Print
CSKA's newcomers helped assure their victorious debuts

When legend Georgios Printezis drove from the right corner to score and get fouled with 13 seconds to go, many memories rose in everyone watching Thursday's nail-biter between Olympiacos Piraeus and CSKA Moscow. That basket put the Reds ahead 74-73 after they had trailed by 25 points early in the third quarter and by 49-65 with 8 minutes to go. Now, they looked ready to grab another historic come-from-behind win, as they had done against CSKA on at least two memorable occasions, in the 2012 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game and the 2015 semifinals.

"We went up by 25 points, but Olympiacos still had a last statement on defense, putting [Sasha] Vezenkov on our creators," CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis pointed out in the post-game press conference. "They managed to stop our creativity, stop our mobility, forcing turnovers and running in open-court situations. This is pretty much how they came back."

Alas, Printezis could not convert his free throw after that late layup, and on the ensuing CSKA offense, Mike James drew a foul on Vassilis Spanoulis with 3 seconds while shooting a three-pointer. That turned into 2 points to allow CSKA escape with a hard-fought 74-75 victory from Peace and Friendship Stadium.

The win meant a lot for Itoudis, who had to partially rebuild his roster and the team dynamics in the past few weeks.

"I'm happy with the win, considering we had a new start, as well," he said. "James was almost 20 days off, Toko [Shengelia] 21 days out of the game, and [Will] Clyburn two months out of the game, too.

"It takes a lot of work, a lot of effort to know each other, to know what the tough moments bring and the kind of mindset we should have in such tough moments."

To achieve that, CSKA also needed to get adjusted to playing with two new players who made their debuts for the Russian powerhouse in this game. One was Michael Eric, who recently joined CSKA to make up for center Nikola Milutinov's long-time absence because of an injury. The Nigerian center, who won the Spanish League last season with TD Systems Baskonia, helped his new team with 2 points, 5 rebounds and 1 block in 11 minutes, proving that he can help contribute immediately.

The other one was shooting guard Iffe Lundberg, a Euroleague debutant who looked more than comfortable in his first game with CSKA, posting 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. His 26:16 minutes on the floor and PIR of 15 were second-best on the team after James.

"I'm happy to be here. I think I will adjust fast and I hope so," Lundberg said. "Everyone was very welcoming towards me, coaches, players, the whole club, so I'm very appreciative for that."

Lundberg didn't seem nervous at all when he took the court, nailing his first three-point attempt and contributing to a couple of highlight plays that helped his team amass a 25-point advantage in the second half and, ultimately, the win.

"It feels really, really good," Lundberg said after. "We played a really good game, especially in the first half. We played defensively really well, we were locked in and executed coach's plan."

Even though he didn't take a shot in the last 5 minutes, as that responsibility still lied on more experienced players like James or Nikita Kurbanov, Lundberg showed no fear when he was allowed to make decisions. He shared much of his playing time with James and, looking at how it went on his debut, future CSKA opponents should pay attention to what he knows already and to what he learned in this game.