AX Armani Exchange Milan rounded off a brilliant week in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with a 57-67 road victory against CSKA Moscow at Megasport Arena on Friday night. With that win, Milan ranks third in the standings with a 13-6 record, sending CSKA to seventh place at 12-8. Most importantly, Milan have now also beaten CSKA twice this season, and that should give the Italian powerhouse the edge in most multiple-way ties involving both squads at the end of the regular season.
It was a special game for Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez, who helped CSKA write history in golden letters in the late 2010s. Hines won two Turkish Airlines EuroLeague titles with CSKA in 2016 and 2019, the latter with Rodriguez as a teammate. A few years later, Hines and Rodriguez have turned into a nightmare for CSKA, as Milan just registered its fourth consecutive victory against CSKA. It was a no-doubt-about-it victory, also: Milan led from start to finish and used its defense to break a record for the fewest points conceded to CSKA in a road win.
Milan only allowed CSKA to get 57 points, its lowest mark ever in a home loss in EuroLeague history. FC Barcelona had the previous record, beating CSKA 60-81 on the road on November 8, 2012. Partizan Belgrade limited CSKA to 56 points in Game 1 of the 2009 playoffs, but lost the game 56-47. On Friday, Milan also forced CSKA to hit just 3-of-24 three-pointers (12.5%), had 6 blocks and made the host finish the game with a PIR of 48, the lowest ever by the Russian powerhouse at home.
Hines and Rodriguez rose to the challenge and were the two players with the highest PIR in this game. Hines had 12 points, 4 rebounds and a PIR of 19, while Rodriguez finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a PIR of 17. No CSKA player had a higher PIR than Iffe Lundberg's 15.
"Everybody stepped up. We knew it was going to be a very important game, and it is very tough to win here in Moscow. We have guys that stepped up today and played really well. I am always happy when I win," Rodriguez said after the game. "I have so many good memories playing in this arena, so coming here and beating one of the best teams in Europe is very special. We have to keep going. We are working well, missing some guys, and we are happy with the work that we are doing."
Milan head coach Ettore Messina added: "Kyle Hines was amazing on the boards. Because of that, I think we had the extra possessions and even if we didn't shoot well, we took a great win, a very important win." Messina was also coming back to familiar territory, having coached CSKA in two different stints including EuroLeague titles in 2006 and 2008. He even spoke a little bit of Russian in the press conference room, much to the delight of all media members. "I am happy and I would like to share some of my few Russian words that I have," he said with a big smile.
There was more good news for Milan, too, as Troy Daniels and Trey Kell finished the game with career-best efforts. Kell was just in his second EuroLeague game but helped Milan with 9 points and 3 rebounds, providing the biggest highlight of the game with a huge dunk in traffic late in the first half. Daniels also came off the bench, burying 4-of-7 three-pointers on his way to 13 points in just 15 minutes. "I think a big key was that we found in our bench huge resources with Trey Kell and Troy Daniels, who really helped us," Messina said after the game.
"Our team stepped up, there were a lot of players that stepped up in the absence of Gigi Datome and Jerian Grant. Troy Daniels and Trey (Kell) stepped up and other guys stepped up," Hines said. "That was the key. It is always next man up for us."
Milan is now on a three-game winning streak and faces Zalgiris Kaunas next week. Since their Round 17 showdown was postponed, it will be the last time this season that two teams go against each other for the first time. After that, the battle to reach the playoffs should be harder than ever, but Milan took a big step towards that goal with its second victory over CSKA.