It was far from a free flowing game but with Lokomotiv Kuban recording their worst defensive half of the season and Nando De Colo scoring 30 points, CSKA did enough writes Emmet Ryan
CSKA opted not to start Milos Teodosic letting Nando de Colo and Cory Higgins carry the load early. It gave the Moscow club a quick start with a Higgins three helping the favourites to an early 9-0 lead. Andrey Vorontsevich was tasked with guarding Loko’s danger man Malcolm Delaney early and he did a solid job frustrating the former Virginia Tech Hokie in the early going.
In truth CSKA could have run up a bigger lead faster but for some needless errors. Delaney finally stopped the rot 3 minutes in, scoring twice in quick succession. Midway through the first it felt like CSKA had missed a chance to put some big air between the sides. Both sides clogged space hard on defence, leading to some scrappy movements as neither offence could create space with ease. Loko looked the more comfortable living off scraps, their simple game suited too finding shots in ugly positions.
An ill judged behind the back pass by Milos Teodosic to Viktor Khryapa summed up the state of play in this quarter. Neither side was going to get much done with flashy hoops, on the next two possessions CSKA kept it simple and stretched the lead back out. After the first frame CSKA had a commanding lead, 23-12
Dontaye Draper stepped up early in the second to make the deficit manageable. For a team without experience at this level, it’s easy to get into a big hole early and never get out of it. That happened to Fenerbahce in Madrid last year when a second quarter onslaught by the hosts ended their dreams before the half-time buzzer. Going in Loko’s favour was Giorgios Barztokas’ experience of just this kind of game against CSKA. His Olympiacos side had similar struggles early against the Moscow club in 2012 before eventually rolling. Now he was tasked with doing the same job with a radically different roster.
The sloppy nature of the game was making it hard for either side to maintain a rhythm, with a combined 12 turnovers in 13 minutes of play. Then the atmosphere took a turn with the mass arrival of the Fenerbahce fans, cheering for their side who wouldn’t be on the floor for another two and a half hours. They died down quickly enough and when they did CSKA pushed it out again with Kyle Hines doing work on the inside. Anthony Randolph, who was having a shocking half, finally did something useful as he answered a Vitaly Fridzon three with a long two but CSKA were having another nice run and Loko’s goal late in the half was damage limitation. Matt Janning and Ryan Broekhoff nailed a couple of threes to stop CSKA’s offence from ending this one inside of 20 minutes but at the half it was the favourites ahead 47-37.
The utter lack of intensity in this game carried over into the third quarter. While Delaney and De Colo had quietly hit double digits on the score board, neither team looked like it was going to its scorers in chief to bring hard pressure and force a more open game. Loko were occasionally cutting the deficit but not long enough to worry CSKA. Likewise the favourites were happy to sit on their half-time advantage and make Loko work.
Having cut the deficit to 6 points, the closest since the first quarter, Loko immediately let CSKA come back to make some more breathing room. A De Colo lay-up made it a double-digits game again and brought the Alphonso Ford Trophy winner past the 20 point mark. A Draper three on the buzzer meant it was parity for the quarter but CSKA led 69-59 with 10 minutes to play.
The fourth didn’t exactly begin with a wild sense of alacrity from Loko and CSKA took the opportunity to push it out to 16 points. Barztokas took a timeout with 6.23 to play, still quite a bit on the clock but it felt like now or never time for the underdogs.
The answers simply weren’t coming. A Delaney score from deep managed to make Dimitris Itoudis call in his charges but CSKA still looked comfortable until the long anticipated nervous stutter in the final two minutes. It wouldn’t be a CSKA semi final in a Final Four if they didn’t at least look capable of grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. Eventually they got over the line, 88-81.