It was a fourth straight stunning disappointment for CSKA Moscow in the Final Four. Emmet Ryan asks where now for Europe’s most affluent club?
It was happening again. After 36 minutes of utter irrelevancy, Vassilis Spanoulis went up the court and nailed a three. Kostas Sloukas narrowed the gap more and Fabio to my left was thinking the same as me. CSKA were about to CSKA. Again.
London really feels like the odd one out when we look over the last four Euroleague Final Fours. Yes it was an epic collapse but it came so much earlier than those games in Istanbul, Milano, and here. In those three games, it was almost too late for the Moscow club to find a way to lose yet each and every time they did. Even with London, they went from a position of total control to be ripped apart by Olympiacos. The only difference was the comeback started early enough for the Greeks to win by a handsome margin.
Fenerbahce will go home lamenting their defeat but they will have enough complaints, albeit overstated, about the officiating and comfort in how they played the second half to get their heads together. Getting to Madrid was enough for them, so long as they retain the Turkish championship.
For CSKA, another win in the VTB League will be just what is expected. They won’t have it easy, the semi-finals are loaded, but even if they looked polished in taking apart their Russian foes they will still have this open wound.
Andrei Kirilenko, on his third stint with CSKA, surely thought his side was en route to the final until late in that last quarter. For most of the game he had lost his individual battle with Ioannis Papapetrou but on the whole CSKA just looked better. Instead he must console himself with another close but no cigar performance. With a lot of miles on the clock, one has to wonder if or how he will motivate himself for another campaign with the Moscow club.
As long as CSKA retain their financial muscle, and there is no reason to expect otherwise, they can be all but chalked into the Final Four for the next few years. I expect to see CSKA in Berlin. Once the VTB Arena is ready to go, I expect to see them there too. Getting there however is no longer enough. CSKA aren’t splashing out millions just to get to the big dance. They want to take the top prize.
This was the season where, unlike London and Milano, the basketball public had faith in CSKA. They looked to have a calmer demeanour, the confidence required to back up their unparalleled depth on the floor.
Then, right here in the Barclaycard Centre, they found a way to lose. This doesn’t discredit Olympiacos, the Reds forced the game into their style and did enough to stay in the fight, but CSKA went from positions where they had control of the game to one of utter collapse. Last night I wrote that Spanoulis belongs in the nightmares of CSKA players and he will surely one day be honoured with the Final Four MVP trophy being named after him but it’s not like CSKA didn’t know what Spanoulis could do. They knew this was the kind of player who could light it up out of nowhere, that there was no moment when Olympiacos were truly beaten until the final buzzer went.
Instead, they saw that first three and fell apart. The talent is there but where CSKA’s minds are is another question entirely.