It’s the game nobody wants to play in and few want to watch but at least it featured a milestone for Juan Carlos Navarro and quality minutes for Mario Hezonja. After the devastation of defeat in Friday’s semi finals, CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona trotted out for the Euroleague third/fourth place decider.
A faint CSKA cheer greeted the opening tip with the drummer trying to rally the supporters in an arena that was at best a fifth full. Sonny Weems nailed his first shot, after his horrible evening on Friday it was of little consolation. CSKA raced into an 8-2 lead, forcing Xavi Pascual to call timeout early. Much to the chagrin of those present, this gave the MC from last year in London a chance to get on the mic. At least he was second fiddle to the main MC and there was comfort in knowing he would be drowned out by Maccabi fans in a few hours. Sasha Kaun was dominating the opening quarter, much as he did against Maccabi, scoring 8 points in the first three minutes of action. The scoring was fast but it was hardly a surprise given how easy both sides were going on defence. Milos Teodosic dropped a Navarro-esque floater, then the Barcelona guard responded in kind following his own introduction. At the end of the first, CSKA led 24-21.
Maciej Lampe opened the second quarter with back-to-back threes to remind us that yes, he is indeed still alive despite sitting the full 40 minutes on Friday night. Barca moved into a 34-28 lead on the back of Lampe’s efforts. Alex Abrines added another three and the Catalan back-ups were having a good frame. CSKA however were still finding plenty of room up the other end of the floor as Kaun moved to double digits on the scoresheet with a dunk. An alley-oop slam by Joey Dorsey drew a gasp from the crowd as Barca stretched their lead to 9. Mario Hezonja entered the game and certainly looked eager but had limited opportunities as the half drew to a close. Barcelona took a 50-47 lead into the break.
The game tightened up a little as the second half got under way, with Hezonja throwing himself around at will, drawing and giving up fouls in quick succession. A Navarro three off an Hezonja dish pushed Barca 7 ahead. Another Navarro three gave the Barcelona guard the Final Four record of 31. Pascual’s side kept CSKA at arm’s reach but, as ever, there were ample opportunities for the Russians to cut the deficit. A long Jeremy Pargo three on the buzzer kept it close. With 10 minutes to go, Barcelona led 69-64.
The pace got even slower as the final quarter got under way. The handling turned a little sloppy as CSKA managed to stay within two possessions but could reel Barcelona all the way in. Another Dorsey dunk off an alley-oop pass from Marcelinho Huertas made it 76-70 with 6.10 left. Barcelona, having lost this game in each of the past two seasons, stepped up their defensive intensity in a bid to end the streak. Dorsey made an energetic block and Huertas hit a three to push the lead to 12. Lampe extend the lead with a jumper and an and-one. CSKA, to their credit, showed more urgency on offence but threes from Oleson and Kostas Papanikolaou removed what little doubt was left. It’s nobody’s favourite game but Barcelona took the honours, 93-78.