Though CSKA Moscow and Žalgiris Kaunas have never met on a opening day before, this matchup of perpetual Continental powers makes for an appropriate inauguration for the 2011-12 Euroleague season.
Since the 2001-02 edition of the big league, both sides have appeared in Europe’s top basketball competition, building up something of a rivalry (albeit a bit of a one-sided one) over the past ten seasons over eight EL meetings and a handful of others in various pan-European competition.
On this opening day, BallinEurope takes a brief look back at previous clashes between these two clubs.
• In the modern era, things began for these teams in 2003-04. That memorable season saw Arvydas Sabonis suiting up for Žalgiris for a third go around and bagging the league MVP award despite his advanced age of 39 and the Lithuanian side’s bouncing from the Top 16 round.
CSKA would meet Žalgiris in week seven of the old 14-game pool-play format that season; the old warrior Sabonis played limited minutes in battling a flu bug, yet still went for 19 points and eight rebounds. (See video below for an admirable display of Sabas’ range and general dominance – who’d’ve known he was virus-laden?) Moscow emerged as winners anyway, with J.R. Holden unstoppable from outside and Marcus Brown, he who would a few years later become Kaunas’ favorite adopted son, each putting in 21 points for CSKA in the fast-paced 90-81 victory.
• The Greens had their backs against the wall for the final game of the first round in 2004, but managed to advance into the Top 16, in spite of a crushing home loss to the Red Army in Kaunas. Victor Alexander scored the buzzer-beating three to stun those in attendance, 78-75. Brown again killed the Greens with 18 points.
While Moscow took the group based on the win, Žalgiris backed into the second round based on tiebreakers.
• A disappointing 2006-07 for Žalgiris was in direct contrast to CSKA’s eventual second-place finish that season, encapsulated by two meetings in the first round. The ‘Army marched all over their Lithuanian counterparts twice: In game five of pool play, that hardcore Russian defense held Žalgiris to just 25 points in the second half for a 78-59 victory in Lithuania; in week 12, Moscow mathematically eliminated Žalgiris, 88-72, while bringing its own record up to 11-1 for the season to that point.
The star-filled CSKA (including Holden, Theo Papaloukas, Trajan Langdon, Tomas van der Spiegel and Matjaz Smodis among others) would ultimately fall to Panathinaikos for the latter’s first EL title in the championship match, 93-91.
• The following season, the random draw again saw fit to pair off CSKA and Žalgiris in the first round. Unfortunately for Žalgiris, the results were similar to the previous season: The Lithuanian side lost both games by scores of 78-70 and 88-60 on the way to another appearance by Moscow in the Euroleague championship match.
• And just two EL seasons ago, the teams met in the Top 16 round. In game two, Langdon tormented Žalgiris with 17 points while CSKA game back from a 15-point deficit in the second quarter to win handily, 83-68. This was particularly bad news for the Lithuanians, as Žalgiris had begun its Top 16 campaign with a loss to Asseco Prokom.
• CSKA would slam the door on Žalgiris later, with BiE fave Pops Mensah-Bonsu turning in a nice 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench for the Russian side in a decisive 84-71 win; the Reds would again finish third that season.
• Beyond Euroleague play, CSKA Moscow and Žalgiris Kaunas have met a number of times before as well. As two of the banner franchises in the VTB United League, the teams would meet twice in the inaugural 2009-10 season in a fight for group supremacy; this two-game series was split, with both sides finishing the first round at 5-1.
After the first game finished with Žalgiris once again on the short end of the stick, 90-74, behind Andrei Vorontsevich’s 16-point, six-rebound show, Kaunas would exact some revenge in game four. In that meeting, Brown was the difference for the Greens, with 26 points and seven rebounds – plus some amazing clutch play with a huge 15 in the last six minutes of play.
CSKA took the first-ever VTB season title, while Žalgiris was denied a third meeting in losing to BC Khimki Moscow region in the semifinals.
• In the 2008 preseason Gomelsky Cup invitational tournament, Žalgiris managed to pull off a shocker against CSKA on the latter’s home floor with an 83-81 win on the way to a Lithuanian championship in the competition. Two years later, CSKA finally emerged with a ‘Cup title, squeaking past Žalgiris in the final match, 79-73, with Smodis turning in a huge 21-point eight-rebound performance.
• And who could forget the old Soviet League? Check out this pair of clips from 1987, featuring Sabonis in a starring role for Žalgiris in a 90-83 overtime win in the championship match, a game some still consider the Greens’ finest victory ever.
• Finally, the surely long-awaited Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™ for tonight’s match. Can Žalgiris break its eight-game losing streak against a CSKA now armed with AK-47? Probably not. CSKA Moscow by 13.