It looked like it was going to be a coronation for so long but the 2016 Euroleague championship game turned into one of the craziest title games in history. Emmet Ryan reports from a wild Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Out of nowhere a game that looked like a rout turned into one of the most extraordinary clashes in Euroleague or indeed basketball history. CSKA Moscow looked on course for a romp for the vast majority of this game but somehow this one turned into an overtime barn-burner.
This wasn’t Berlin, this was Istanbul West. The CSKA intros drowned out by the Fenerbahce fans and there were still minutes to go until tip. As soon as the ball got thrown in the arena just got louder with Fener fans jumping. A three from Kalinic got a roar. The next CSKA possession was a string of whistles before Kyles Hines found his way in to score. The heat found its way onto the floor as De Colo and Nikola Kalinic got testy.
CSKA rattled off an 8-0 run to take the crowd out of it for a while. The Moscow club, despite being up against a road atmosphere, was dictating the tone of the game early. Jan Vesely finally got Fener back in business with a floater and Gigi Datome tied up at 15-15. CSKA were living off their outside game in the first frame, opening 4 of 6 from three, while Fneer’s interior strength wasn’t proving a factor. CSKA were winning the battle of the back courts and Bobby Dixon was struggling to find opportunities, getting smothered repeatedly. Vesely effectively turned creator, bring it into the paint and then finding options. At the end of one Fener trailed 20-22 but, much like the game with Loko, it felt like CSKA should have been further ahead.
Strategically Zeljko Obradovic was trying out a few options in the back court to try and unlock CSKA. Melih Mahmutoglu got some unexpected early action late in the first frame. The master wasn’t letting his former apprentice, Dimitris Itoudis, get away from him but he was struggling to outfox him.
The Milos match-up was the big problem. Dixon needed far too much help to cover the Serbian. Obradovic was essentially looking to find ways to win this game while surviving the Teodosic onslaught. The bigs were finally making an impact and the return of Bogdan Bogdanovic to the floor gave Fener a fair chance to open it up. The one edge Obradovic knew he was going to have here was depth up front, not introducing Pero Antic until early in the second frame after Vesely had a long stint. Creatively however his charges were lacking, with their offence too predictable for the CSKA D.
Another three for Milos and De Colo, who had happily played creator up to now, hit one of his own. With three minutes to go in the half it was all CSKA. The Moscow club with a 30-42 advantage and Fenerbahce looking utterly out of ideas. Vesely, who had rallied his side with pure grinding on Friday, was brought back in to try and change things up. A couple of ugly misses from the line by the Czech summed up the way the night was going for the Istanbul club.
What was looking like a tough spot for Fenerbahce was turning into an absolute rout. CSKA had taken the crowd out of the game almost entirely, with the CSKA corner the only source of noise as the half wound down. The role players were stepping up to back up the work of their stars. Andrey Vorontsevich, Cory Higgins, and Aaron Jackson all contributed in the closing minutes of the half and this game looked over as a contest. CSKA led 30-50 after 20 minutes. Only the ultimate case of CSKA pulling a CSKA could cost them the game now.
Things got just plain stupid in the third. A fan at courtside pushed Nikola Kalinic as he went out of bounds, forcing a brief stoppage to the action, and neither offence looked up to all that much through the early exchanges. The gap barely moved for most of the frame. With 10 minutes to play CSKA were in cruise control with a 69-53 lead.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Fenerbahce looked like they might be able to make a game of this. Quickly cutting the deficit to 10 points. Time didn’t favour the Istanbul club but the breaks were going their way. Datome got to the line and they were within single digits.
A three from Viktor Khryapa looked to have settled the nerves but Datome responded immediately and then Antic made it a two-possession game from the line with 4.24 to play. It was happening, it was really happening. The ultimate CSKAing was unfolding before our eyes as a Bobby Dixon three made it a 3 point game. A couple of possessions later and it was 78-79 via Dixon again. With exactly 43 seconds to play Mr President did it again. A step back three. It was all square.
CSKA called a timeout but right out of it they botched the play. Kyle Hines fouled Sloukas and the Greek made both from the line. Fener were somehow in front. Khryapa got CSKA back on level terms but Udoh had a chance to win it. He rimmed out and, just like Milan, this one was going to need overtime.
Overtime began with a bang as Sloukas nailed a three but CSKA settled quickly and started trading the lead with Fener. A couple of poor possessions looked to have knocked the Istanbul club off their rhythm and Obradovic called in the troops, down 88-91 with 2.10 left.
Down the stretch, having lost their confidence when they needed it in regulation, CSKA found a way to push into a 7 point lead. A Dixon three once again made it manageable but Fener gambled poorly. Rather than making the quick foul with just over 30 seconds on the clock, they tried to force a CSKA error. Instead it was Udoh who fouled. Teodosic pushed it out again from the line but a Datome 3 gave Fener hope with 7.5 seconds left.
Leading 96-99 De Colo stepped up knowing that making one from the line would end the game. He made both. After what CSKA went through in Istanbul, London, Milan, and Madrid, they were never going to make it easy on themselves. It took overtime but, finally, CSKA Moscow are over the line.