After eight years of heartbreak and near misses, CSKA Moscow finally exercised their demons.
The Russian giants won their first Euroleague title since 2008 and seventh overall with an exhilarating 101-96 win over Fenerbahce after a period of overtime in the championship game in Berlin on Sunday night.
But it so nearly left their grasp once again, after leading comfortably by 21 points in the early stages of the third quarter, CSKA dropped their heads and got too relaxed, allowing Fenerbahce to claw their way back and even take an 83-81 lead with 21 seconds left.
But, staring another embarrassing loss in the face, veteran Victor Khryapa forced overtime with 1.6 seconds left, sending the small batch of CSKA fans into raptures and the hoards of Fenerbahce faithful into despair.
And despite a three-pointer by Fenerbahce guard Kostas Sloukas to open the overtime session, CSKA were determined not to add 2016 to their unwanted list of Euroleague near misses.
“Honestly, yes I was nervous,” claimed CSKA Moscow guard Aaron Jackson.
“But we have great players, we have the MVP, we have a great coach and we stuck to our plan, we knew what we were going to do at the end, we have been practicing all week, all season. We showed our balls and left it on the court.”
Indeed, CSKA showed a great deal of tenacity, especially at the end of the fourth to tie the game and again when they fell behind to a three from Sloukas. This was their moment and regardless of who was against them, whether it was on the court or in the stands, they were getting it done. Kyle Hines put them up for good at 89-88, which allowed Nando De Colo to take over. He scored 10 points in overtime in the win.
“I’m happy it’s over,” CSKA forward Hines said. “It was definitely nerve-racking in the game after being up by 21 and even them having a lead, it was definitely nerve-racking but I’m happy we pulled it out.”
Euroleague MVP De Colo added the Final Four MVP award to his impressive trophy collection this season. He starred with 22 points and seven assists to lead CSKA.
“I feel great [about all these awards], but this is just details,” said a humble De Colo. “The most important thing is this cup and nothing more. I am very proud of us because we worked hard all the season. Everybody thinks this is easy because we are CSKA, but we had to fight day-by-day, game-by-game, and we did it.”
Milos Teodosic added 19 as he can finally call himself a Euroleague champion – at the seventh attempt. Hines amassed 15.
“This is an unbelievable, beautiful feeling,” said Teodosic. “In my biggest dreams I could not imagine what it feels like to win Euroleague. I think only in few days, if not more, we will realise what we did here tonight.”
For the so-called student of CSKA Moscow coach Dimitris Itouidis, he is now 5-1 overall against his teacher Zeljko Obradovic, but he graduated from the Obradovic school of coaching years ago. He praised his winners on their belief in each other
“We had leaders on the court,” he said. “Leaders in the locker room and a big belief.”
“Right now I am very, very proud,” Obradovic said. “We had a great Euroleague and I think we deserved to win the Euroleague. We were very close. I really think we deserved to win the game in regular time. But thank you to our people and the fans for their support. I hope that everyone will be there so we can come back next year and win the title. This experience must help us for the future.”
— Ekpe Udoh (@EkpeUdoh) May 15, 2016
Dixon led Fenerbahce with 17 points.
With a fanatical Fenerbahce following behind them, Luigi Datome scored six quick points to give the Turkish side an early 11-7 cushion. CSKA, appearing in their first title game since 2012 fought back – a timely three from Teodosic gave the Muscovites a 15-11 lead.
Fenerbahce were able to level matters, but were too over reliant on three-pointers and it allowed CSKA to regain the lead at 22-20 at the close of the first period.
For Fenerbahce, it went downhill in the second quarter.
Dixon narrowed CSKA’s lead two minutes into the second with a three but that was their last field goal of the quarter as they once again relied on long range attempts and seemingly not wanting to drive to the hoop, despite numerous open lanes.
CSKA on the other hand, were playing solid team basketball. Moving the ball around and creating good looks. An 11-2 run, highlighted with back-to-back dunks from Andrey Vorontsevich and Nikita Kurbanov gave the Russians a 37-29 lead.
Nothing was going right for Fenerbahce. Even from the foul line, the ball was not falling. Jan Vesely in particular had a hard time connecting, even air-balling one of his attempts from the charity stripe.
An 8-0 run by CSKA strengthened their grip on proceedings and they deservedly led 50-30 at the half.
Despite Fenerbahce finding their feet in the third quarter, they still had a mountain to climb. CSKA’s offence, once more was patient and flowing. They even opted to foul Vesely at every opportunity, which worked well. After missing his first four attempts at the stripe in the first half, the Czech Republic international missed a further five tries to frustrate him more.
Pero Antic, Dixon and Ekpe Udoh bolstered Fenerbahce’s scoresheet as the minutes ticked by in the third, but CSKA were still in control, leading 69-53 heading into the fourth.
Then Fenerbahce had their moment as the ghosts of 2012 looked like they were coming back to haunt the Army Men.
Quietly they clawed there way back into contention, and wasn’t until Datome hit from distance to cut the deficit to 77-69 that the sea of yellow and blue inside the Mercedes Benz Arena had a chance to put their opponents under pressure.
And just like in Istanbul, four years previous, the Muscovites crumbled. Allowing Fenerbahce to run solid offences and get easy, open looks. A step-back three from Dixon, followed by foul shots by Sloukas gave the Turkish side an 83-81 lead only for Khryapa to force overtime.
It was the second wind that CSKA needed. Five minutes later, they were hoisting Europe’s most precious club prize.