Ahead of the playoff series between CSKA Moscow and BC Khimki, Emmet Ryan looks at the ongoing issue that simply won’t go away for the Red Army. They can do all they want in the regular season and the playoffs but nobody’s going to know what to make of them until the final buzzer goes on their first game in Belgrade
Had we seen Khimki at full strength for more than just spurts this season, we’d have a lot more to talk about this season. Of course, had we gotten more than glimpses we wouldn’t be seeing this series. A full strength Khimki with all or even most of the season on their docket wouldn’t have ended up with the 8 seed. We’d be talking about contenders to not only make the Final Four but to make noise when they get there.
Instead, the other Russian team in Euroleague this season is going to be just another victim in the post-season. The best Khimki can realistically hope for is to force this to four games and even that is unlikely. This is the one series that everyone is ticking off as a sweep because no other outcome seems plausible. While recording Sweet 16 in a serious jetlagged state on Sunday, I was alert enough to drink in the broader point behind an argument Aris Barkas made about the importance of Cory Higgins. To get to bringing up Higgins he ticked off a bunch of guys who don’t start for CSKA who are still stupidly good at basketball. The Red Army is as deep as ever. We know this, everyone knows this, but reminding us brings up the big thing whenever this side enters the post-season.
Since its 2010/11 debacle of a season, here’s how CSKA has performed in games that matter at the Final Four:
2012 – Won semi final, lost final
2013 – Lost semi final
2014 – Lost semi final
2015 – Lost semi final
2016 – Won it all
2017 – Lost semi final
I don’t need to tell any of you that four of those five losses came to Olympiacos. Nor do I need to tell you that in all of those runs to the big show, CSKA only had one tight series. Across 6 seasons, they have dropped 5 playoff games and haven’t lost at game at this stage in 1,092 days. That run brings with it all kinds of predictability.
So we saw what we expected from CSKA in the regular season. They came out and just dominated for the most part. Their record of 24-6 gave them the top seed by three clear games. Including VTB play, CSKA holds a gaudy 44-8 record on the year. We haven’t seen a team post numbers like this since Real’s run to the 2014 final. That’s what we are looking at here.
There’s also the added bonus that CSKA won’t face Olympiacos again until at least the championship game, with the winners of the Panathinaikos vs Real Madrid series their opponents on the Friday in Belgrade. We’re going to watch CSKA, even with a hurt Kyle Hines, take care of business against Khimki and we’re still going to be asking questions. For this club, the season always starts and ends at the Final Four.