Teodosic: Hero again

Going into last night’s Euroleague-closing match against FC Barcelona, Ettore Messina and CSKA Moscow seemed to have deduced the solution to Milos Teodosic’s fourth-quarter woes dating back to the 2012 Final Four tournament: Simply blow out opponents so that no clutch play is required.

In hindsight, this game mathematically meant little: Thanks to the week 5 blowout induced by Barça, CSKA faced the nigh-impossible task of winning by 22 points against the EL-undefeated Spanish side. Revenge blowout or no, however, it was quickly obvious that both teams came unwilling to go into the ‘League break with a loss.

And so going into the fourth quarter, CSKA faced its first true crunch-time test since October. As per BallinEurope tradition, BiE reports Teodosic’s stat line through the first 30 minutes as a bit of a mixed bag: 3-of-4 overall shooting, five rebounds, three steals and five TOs.

Messina sat his starting point guard for the fourth quarter’s first 6½ minutes; despite a couple bursts of nifty transition ball by CSKA, with 3:32 remaining and Ante Tomic sinking two free throws, the Red Army had fallen a point further behind since the fourth-quarter opening.

Then in came Milos. Even watching the replay, BiE cringed at the too-“spirited” conversation with coach Messina before coming on to the floor. BiE winced at Teodosic’ first touch, which resulted in a turnover which ultimately resulted in a 70-64 lead.

But just like that, the mojo appeared to be back. With Dionte Christmas and Sonny Weems having warmed up with some masterful shot creation inside the arc throughout the second half (more on this momentarily), both were happy to be on the receiving end of bang-bang Teodosic assists. Weems’ two made it 70-69.

After some nervy fouling and TOs on either end, at 00:41.8 remaining, Milos took the initiative. On the night’s eighth (!) attempt by CSKA players outside the arc, Teodosic banked a dagger for a margin Moscow wouldn’t relinquish.

Teodosic was justifiably awarded Player of the Game honors for his efforts, and BiE is happy to see the monkey off Milos’ back (at least for the nonce).

In the bigger picture, CSKA’s game plan in the rematch shows just how far this team has come since that fateful blowout – and how heavily armed this team is.

Teodosic’ huge efforts in the final two quarters aside, some of the most intriguing stuff could be seen from the CSKA backcourt when Teodosic was not in the game. Weems, Christmas and Aaron Jackson all handled the ball in good measure in transition for opportunities that consistently left Barça guessing quickly. While Weems and Christmas were faulted for a combined eight turnovers, these were surely made up for in terms of creative shot selection that few teams could conjure against Barcelona.

Props to Weems defense in halfcourt play as well: This guy demonstrated his incredible range and basketball IQ allowing him to help on the double teams while not fearing getting back to cover the shot outside. Weems’ three steals attest to his best D this season and BiE wonders if he’s able to just flip that lockdown switch whenever necessary…

Most incredible of all was CSKA’s implementation of Messina’s response to the week 5 debacle. From a result impossible to blame on any one factor, Messina apparently homed in on the most abysmal point of CSKA’s performance: The 1-of-15 three-point shooting.

In slicing the number of attempts nearly in half (and bombing away a mere three times in about 30 minutes spanning from mid-first quarter to mid-fourth), CSKA adopted a jumpshot-first look we haven’t seen from the team this year. Viktor Khyrapa was tasked with some of the miscellaneous blue-collar work on D – his four-rebound, one-block stat line conceals his effective smothering of Erazem Lorbek in the second half – as Nenad Krstic and Sasha Kaun combined to control the defensive glass.

Meanwhile, the triad of shooters went to work. Weems drew a lion’s share of double-team coverage but the changeup from Jackson-then-Teodosic-and-back allowed him looks from anywhere (strictly inside the arc on this occasion, of course) and particularly on the strong side

Again, it may be too early to see if Teodosic can produce in an elimination game come springtime, but this team may have just enough firepower and creativity without him. A scary prospect, indeed.

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