It was end to end, then it was sluggish, then it was a battle of nerves, then it was a Frenchman taking over. The second semi-final of the 2019 Euroleague Final Four had stars appearing, disappearing, and then finding their way back in a dramatic encounter that was only somewhat marred by an foul-ridden third quarter. Emmet Ryan on how CSKA Moscow overcame Real Madrid
Normally it’s CSKA you expect to CSKA, to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the grandest stage. Yet when it hit the business end of proceedings in this one, Real wilted hard. We had a panicked Pablo Laso, on court remonstrations, and some simply dunderheaded possessions. With all the world collapsing around him, Nando de Colo stood tall.
Right away you could see the length. Walter ‘Edy’ Tavares just towered over Othello Hunter to grab an offensive board with ease. Two quick dunks followed. The issue everybody had scouted was clear to all. Defensive board. Once more Tavares makes light work of Hunter. The mismatch was obvious, CSKA’s job was to take it out of the equation. Hunter goes for the score inside, block by Tavares. The scoreboard said 6-6 but this was one man beating up a smaller one and the traffic was all one direction.
CSKA’s plan appeared to be just punting that match-up and hoping their offence could do enough to overcome it. Will Clyburn certainly got the start they needed but the rest of the line-up didn’t exactly look like it was going to be all-out balling in a shootout. Once Facundo Campazzo scored from deep, CSKA needed to talk things over.
CSKA don’t bring many fans to the Final Four but the few that travel are a hearty bunch. They’re so used to disappointment at this stage of the competition but the sheer lack of expectation around this CSKA side would have given them mild hope. When everyone expects CSKA to CSKA is when they tend to actually show up. Hines had come in for Hunter out of the timeout and realised he wasn’t going to compete with Tavares right in his face so looked to do some work with spacing. 6 inches here, 9 inches there. It wasn’t stopping Tavares but it was at least lessening his impact.
Well if Edy isn’t doing it he can just let the faster man with also crazy long arms take over. Anthony Randolph put Alec Peters on a poster to hammer home the sheer difference in athleticism between these sides. Sergio ‘Chacho’ Rodriguez was able to go deep a couple of times to keep CSKA in touch but that’s where they were still in the first quarter, just trying to stay in the game. Madrid vs Chacho could look heroic but there’s only one end result from that scenario. At the end of the first, Real led 22-18.
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The other half of the big man tandem had come in for Real towards the end of the first. Gustavo Ayon is a different threat to Tavares, a heck of a scorer and a brilliant distributor. Tavares had taken a seat after his third block of the frame.
It turns out having Chacho as your one and only option isn’t a terrible plan. CSKA got level soon enough in the second and his Chachismo seemed to have calmed the rest of the side. That and the whole way Tavares was sitting. Chacho moved them into their first lead of the night soon enough and the fear that Real were just going to blow this one open seemed premature.
It was around now however that we started to see those other pieces step up for Real Madrid. The first real sightings of Jaycee Carroll and Sergio Llull on offence. Still it wasn’t the smooth flowing play that had put them in charge early. Campazzo kept his head about him and ensured that things still worked even if they were a touch off kilter. On a fast break he fed Fabien Causeur at the perfect moment to ensure the Frenchman drew a foul as he made a lay-up.
That was speeding up the scoring again, CSKA were making shots but you had to fear for the Red Army. Chacho and Peters nailing jumpers is fine but when Los Blancos were answering back you could feel the pace move more to their liking.
With things tied up, Tavares returned to the floor. Hines hadn’t sat in the interim. There was a chance to attack here. Instead, CSKA switched Hines out, went to small ball, and Cory Higgins worked him inside. That was smart but there was defensive cost as Real could move the ball more around their big guys. With Jeffrey Taylor back on the floor to shore up the defence, there was a chance for Real to outflank the Red Army through the tail end of the half. Trey Thompkins went deep. Then came a soft turnover by CSKA under pressure from Taylor. Clyburn responded by just calling his own number. First came a drive inside for a score and the foul. Then he just nailed a three on the buzzer.
It was a blend of strategic switches and guys just choosing to take over. At the half, Real led 45-43.
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When Oisín went to Tír na nÓg he was warned that he could never return to Ireland. He pled with Niamh to let him visit but she told him he had to stay on his horse and not let his feet touch the earth. As he tried to help a man he passed by to move a great stone, he fell from his horse. The youthful Oisín aged hundreds of years on the spot. Time moved differently in Tír na nÓg and the land he knew was long gone. This was the story of the third quarter.
Rudy Fernandez from deep and Real were ready to attack to start the third. So too however was Clyburn. He dunked right over Tavares, drawing the foul which was the big man’s third. Pablo Laso kept him in, risking him pretty early albeit statistically the smart move.
Things slowed, noticeably, and Rudy looked to kick things back into gear. He took the handle and ran it hard down the floor. Getting a stop through organised defence was fine but not at the expense of running it down CSKA’s throat. As Randolph stepped to the line, Rudy went for a chat with Laso, this one was going to need his brain as much as his energy.
Fouls were slowing this one hard. We had 6 in 140 seconds and that was dragging out the quarter. Campazzo now with the shot under pressure, of course he made it and naturally he was fouled. This time it was Chacho picking up his third.
As Real looked ready to make their move, it was Rudy who stunted things. Oh what a foul fest, this time he got T-ed up. That brought him to four on the night and he was going to be a bystander for most of what was to come. Then came the Randolph three and it was the first real daylight between the sides, making the gap 11 and once more making CSKA talk things over.
The stoppages just wouldn’t end. A CSKA shot clock violation that looked obvious went to instant replay. After their needless consultation, the call stood. With 4 minutes left in the quarter, the game finally began to move beyond the sludge. Real were having the better of it, mostly through Causeur, and pressed home their advantage although at least Nando de Colo finally woke up for CSKA. The 2016 MVP had been quiet all day until finally making some headway at the tail end of the third.
With Chacho reappearing there was hope for the Red Army as the third finally closed, Real’s lead was 73-65.
Through all that, the sheer workrate of Madrid was starting to show. Entering the fourth they’d managed 53 shots on the night compared to just 43 for CSKA. That extra room for error was the difference on the scoreboard. Laso decided to roll the dice on Rudy early enough as Nando cut it to just a 5 point game. Laso looked again to make a big shuffle, with Tavares and Campazzo ready to re-enter. We were hitting the business end of matters and Real looked anything like a side ready to close it out.
From a T call, Nando cut it to just a 2 point game and we still had most of the fourth to play. Real were letting every offence go to waste, either through turnovers or poor shot selection, while CSKA kept marching to the line at will. Clyburn at the line, the second drops to tie it up.
Thompkins from deep. A luxury on the roster as a big who specialises in getting shots from the corner. A necessity here and now. Then he grabbed the offensive board from a failed Randolph three, Thompkins to Taylor, back to Randolph, dunk and oxygen.
Yet CSKA simply would not go away. The team most associated with falling away in the final moments of Final Four games was fighting to the last here. Nando started down Taylor, rolled out to Randolph, and boom, the lead. Nando de Colo, having been so quiet for the first half was the hero the Red Army needed when all was lost. The back to back dream of Real Madrid was dead. Nando was bueno.
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