Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow had never met in a semi-final of the Euroleague or any of its predecessors. On Friday they went to war with young Luka Doncic looking to keep his shot at the big title alive before leaving for the NBA. Emmet Ryan looks back on the big battle in Stark Arena, Belgrade
The spotlight was on one man more than most in Belgrade. Luka Doncic came here with the eyes of the world on him expecting something big. When the questions were asked, he delivered with a typical performance of effective offence, smart D, and a whole lot of fouls drawn.
Doncic remembers Istanbul all too well. Across both his appearances in his first Final Four, Doncic couldn’t make a bucket. He looked to make amends early in this one from deep but only caught iron. A quick steal from Nikita Kurbanov however helped whatever nerves he may have had in front of a packed arena. The Fenerbahce and Zalgiris fans hadn’t gone home yet. In Milano four years ago the second semi final had become a cavern quickly but not tonight, not with Doncic getting his last trip to the biggest weekend in basketball.
A dose of Chachismo reminded Real what they were up against tonight. Save for rather radically different looking front courts, these two sides could be the Spiderman meme. Following that Sergio Rodriguez three, Cory Higgins dropped a big dunk inside. The Moscow club was here to play.
6.24 left in the first and Doncic gets his first bucket in a Final Four, a three from in front but CSKA are still coming hard. Chacho gliding inside to bring some pain to his former teammates. Doncic brought it back within a score as Real’s shooting looked to be off in the early going.
Andrey Vorontsevich, one of the most reliable deep threats in the league, was sitting with a shoulder injury restricting CSKA’s shooting options. Kyle Hines with the drive inside but then Doncic draws a foul off him on the other end. The kid was keeping Real conscious. Gustavo Ayon tried to find him in the corner but the pass ends up in the front row seats.
— EuroLeague (@EuroLeague) May 18, 2018
The quarter ended with CSKA looking smooth and in control. The kid’s efforts needed some support. Will Clyburn nailed one from deep on the buzzer for the Red Army. As it stood, Los Blancos trailed 30-20.
The Barista Bros of Jaycee Carroll and Fabien Causeur entered the fray to start the second as Doncic sat. They both got threes quickly to spark an 8-0 Real run and force CSKA into a timeout. Trey Thompkins added another as the adjustments by Pablo Laso paid dividends. Llull got a fourth three of the frame for Real to give them the lead on a huge run. Carroll again and it was a different game entirely.
As the barrage slowed midway through the quarter, Doncic re-entered. Real were going long and offensive, with Ayon joining him, Thompkins, and the Barista Bros on the floor. He fed Causeur for a quick three but CSKA were seeing offensive opportunities now as Real ran with such an open line-up. Doncic, while a fine defender, stood out as the most obvious cover man on the floor. He picked up another quick score before Dimitris Itoudis decided to have a think about things.
BallinEurope now has merch, like actual merch, t-shirts, phone covers, and even pillows. Check it all out on our RedBubble page.
A three from Clyburn restored CSKA’s lead before Doncic once again went up the floor and drew another foul. He was second in Euroleague in fouls drawn per game, leading the league when adjusted for minutes, and that was his third drawn of the night. Doncic was doing work but the game was still too open for Real to make stops. Nando de Colo hit a three to keep the scoreboard ticking for the Red Army. A Thompkins score on the buzzer saw Real go in up 47-46.
For our analysis series The Ballin After, post-game interviews, and more, subscribe to BallinEurope’s YouTube channel
The third started slowly. Doncic drew another foul but gave up a pair of quick turnovers as CSKA moved back in front. Matters were getting a little more physical after a fairly gentle first half in terms of physicality. Neither side had really committed to D through the opening 20 minutes but we were seeing plenty of it here.
Real moved back ahead as we hit the midway point of the third. Real were going far more balanced here with Jeffrey Taylor and Felipe Reyes complimenting the more offensive focus of the Barista Bros and Doncic. A Causeur three pushed Real up 6, their biggest lead of the night so far, before Doncic made it 9 with a deep bomb of his own to force a timeout from Itoudis.
A defensive rebound, traffic, the calm escape valve of Ayon. Doncic was hitting his stride just when CSKA needed a break. The Red Army fans to the right of press row were calling for Nando to deliver, instead they got another Madrid stop. Even the small breaks were going Real’s way. De Colo fouled Ayon as Real sought a third chance opportunity.
Hines gave CSKA the bit of life they needed with a pair of scores to make it manageable. Ayon however was doing work, having drawn 7 fouls by the end of the frame to go along with 8 points and 9 rebounds. With 10 minutes to play, it was Real ahead 63-56.
Nando finally got back in this one early in the fourth as Doncic sat, with his three followed by a Kurbanov dunk to bring this back within a score. Laso had gone to Sergio Llull after a long rest for the guard to open the frame. He delivered one of his poorly positioned but somehow successful threes to stretch things out again. A Thompkins three gave Madrid their first double digit lead of the night and CSKA stopped to think things over.
The music slowed again for Madrid. A Kurbanov three had given CSKA some hope before Doncic came in midway through the quarter for Carroll. Real were getting a little too testy on D, giving CSKA soft trips to the line. Doncic drew a fifth foul of the night, this time off Kurbanov, but Real were anything but fluid.
A sixth foul draw by Doncic, from De Colo, but he could only make one of his free throws. CSKA, normally the ones to let victory slip through their fingers, were in a rare position of having a shot at chasing down a win late. Clyburn from deep, he was having himself a night, and it was briefly a one possession game before Llull responded in kind.
Ayon with the big dunk after being put into open space by Doncic. The kid grabs a board and slows things down. There’s no need to rush here, it was time to let CSKA come to them. A seventh foul drawn, the lead moves to 8 from the line. As Ayon made it double digits again, Itoudies called his side in one last time to try and save this.
The answer simply wasn’t there. Another Final Four, another failure for CSKA Moscow. In seven consecutive trips, they have just 1 win and 1 runner-up spot to show for it.
Instead it was Doncic and Real who move forward. On Sunday they face a Fenerbahce side loaded with weapons. The crowd will be against them. The challenge will be great. No matter, they have their shot and they don’t care about the odds. Sunday is another day.
To keep up to date with everything on BiE, like BallinEurope on Facebook