Milan rides defense to overcome CSKA
AX Armani Exchange Milan started the 2021-22 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season strong at home with a determined 84-74 victory over CSKA Moscow. The visitors raced into a double-digit lead, 19-29, in the first quarter, but Milan battled back with a 15-2 run in the second and kept on improving defensively to claim what became a relatively comfortable victory. Shavon Shields led the way with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, Sergio Rodriguez scored 17 and Nicolo Melli impressed on his re-debut with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Kyle Hines (13) and new signing Devon Hall (11) also scored in double-digits for the winning team. Iffe Lundberg led CSKA’s resistance with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, supported by Will Clyburn with 12 points and Nikita Kurbanov with 10.
New CSKA signing Alexey Shved scored a trademark triple with his team’s first possession. After a slow start, Gigi Datome and Melli struck from deep to give Milan its first lead, 8-7. Kurbanov answered with 5 straight points and Shved added a mid-range jumper in a 2-11 run that stretched the lead to 10-18. Kurbanov and Rodriguez exchanged triples, before Daniel Hackett’s turnaround jumper and Clyburn’s triple CSKA kept comfortable, 21-29 at the end of the first quarter. Hall and Hines were on target from two-point range, Jerian Grant added a triple and Rodriguez scored in transition as Milan battled back early in the second, forcing a timeout at 30-32. Hall tied it up from close range, and Melli sent the hosts ahead for the second time, 36-34, before adding free throws to complete a 15-2 run. Toko Shengelia and Shved got CSKA back on track before Hall and Clyburn both netted from downtown and Shved scored from close-range to give his team a 44-45 halftime lead.
Dunks from Melli, Hines and Kurbanov kept it close early in the second half before Shields brought Milan fans to their feet with a big putback slam and immediately added a triple for a 55-53 edge. Hines added a transition slam and an unsportsmanlike foul against Johannes Voigtmann helped Milan stay ahead. Another score from Shields helped make it 62-59 as the defenses dominated the latter stages of the third quarter. Shields stayed hot with the opening score of the final quarter, before Rodriguez and Giampaolo Ricci sliced to the hoop to give Milan its biggest lead yet, 68-59. Lundberg finally got CSKA moving again, but free throws and a Rodriguez fastbreak score made it a double-digit game, 74-63, midway through the final quarter. With defenses still on top, Hackett’s three-pointer gave CSKA hope, but Rodriguez immediately answered with his own deep strike to seal the deal and then added another triple with the final shot of the game for a double-digit margin.
Milutinov hurt again for CSKA
After missing the last four months of last season through injury, Nikola Milutinov started the new campaign in the worst possible way. The CSKA big man suffered an apparent knee injury just 2 minutes into the game, battling for a loose ball underneath the basket, and did not return.
Defensive improvement sparks home success
Milan’s defensive improvement was key to the outcome. CSKA scored 29 first-quarter points, but only managed 1 point more than that – 30 – in the next two quarters. The Muscovites then didn’t score any points for nearly 6 minutes to bridge the third and fourth quarters, allowing the hosts to grab a lead that proved decisive.
Celebrations for Chacho and Coach
Milan guard Sergio Rodriguez reached a milestone as he made his 300th EuroLeague appearance. Only eight players have enjoyed more outings in the competition. His coach Ettore Messina was also celebrating, turning 62 years old on the day of this season opener.
Melli wins battle of re-signings
The game featured two players making their second debuts for their new clubs, having returned in the summer after many years away. Milan forward Nicolo Melli comfortably won that personal duel, providing 15 points and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes on the floor, while CSKA’s Alexey Shved managed just 9 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Round 2 will see Milan travel to Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz on Friday, October 8, the same evening that CSKA has another tough road trip to face reigning champ Anadolu Efes Istanbul.
Thursday, September 30, 2021