Khimki were sliding away from EuroLeague playoff contention upon entering 2018. Now, after securing six wins in eight games, they’re in the mix, as they are lying in sixth spot.
While it’s a team effort that has carried them into the position that they are in, one man has led from the front: last season’s EuroCup MVP Alexey Shved.
The Russian sharpshooter averaged a league-high 20.7 points plus 4.0 assists while shooting 61.5 percent on two-pointers and 90 percent on free throws during the month of February, which landed him MVP honours for the month.
Javier Gancedo of EuroLeague.net caught up with Shved following his sublime month, where he discussed the first win over Unicaja Malaga to conquering Zalgiris in Kaunas to slaying Panathinaikos to cap it all off.
Khimki has won six of its eight EuroLeague games in 2018 to climb deep into the playoff zone. What has changed since that home loss to Barcelona?
“We just want to go to the playoffs, like any team in the EuroLeague. We talked to each other about the things that we could change and what we could do to play better. Now, we are really playing better, more like a team. We have seven games left and these are the most important ones for everybody. We have to keep going our way.”
Your first win in February was probably the hardest one. Unicaja led by six with two minutes left. What helped you win that game and how important was it to get it?
“You know, like you said, we won in the last second. Anthony grabbed an important rebound and hit an important shot. Sometimes you win by one or two points, sometimes you lose. This is just basketball, but after this game, we started to play better. It was a good opportunity for us and we took it.”
You went on to beat Zalgiris in Kaunas and not a lot of teams have won there this season. How was the atmosphere and what allowed you to dominate that game?
“Everybody knows how tough it is to play over there. They always play in a full gym and their fans really help them, they are like their sixth player on the court. They had a good start and scored 26 points in that quarter, but after that, we started to play better defence and tried to move the ball to find open shots. It was an important win because before we went there, they had won seven consecutive games at home. It is hard to beat them there. This is the EuroLeague, the second best league in the world. We cannot have bad starts to the game all the time. It is hard to come back from 10-15 points down, but now, we are playing much better.”
You finished February with a great win against Panathinaikos. You took off in the second quarter and never looked back. How dangerous is this team when you play defense and run the way you did in that second quarter?
“We really have to go game by game. You can play great one day and the next one, maybe you cannot play the same way. What you need to do is play hard every night, all the time. Against Panathinaikos, we remembered the way we lost over there, by 28 points. We really wanted to beat them at home, with a lot of fans.”
It was also your first game with both Tyler Honeycutt and Thomas Robinson playing together. Is that a good sign, can Khimki be even better with a more athletic lineup?
“Yes, of course. Tyler is an important part of the team. He is so athletic, and can do everything on the court – he can shoot, get rebounds, play good defence and of course, that really helps us. He is a great player and everybody wants someone like that on your team. As for Thomas, he missed a lot of time and we waited on him for three months. He is athletic, too. He can score in the paint and of course, he is important for us. He needs time to be at his best level, but everybody knows how he can play. I know he will come back and start playing the way he did at the beginning of the season. He will help us a lot.”
You are having the best scoring season in the competition since 2004. How important is it for you to have such great confidence from your teammates?
“Yes, you know, it really helps that my teammates trust me and our coaches, too. My teammates pass me the ball for open shots and also set good screens for me to shoot; it is teamwork. If your teammates trust you like that, it is really easier to do well. I want to say ‘thank you’ to everybody! For me, the most important thing is to win games. It doesn’t matter if you score a lot of points and you lose. Scoring is good for me, but it is much more important to win the game.”
We heard you like museums a lot. Have you had time to see some of them in some of the cities you have been to this season?
“Not this year. When I travel in the summertime, of course, I go. I don’t have a lot of time when I go to EuroLeague cities. In general, there is not much time during the season, because we play many games. You don’t have much time to even walk outside. Of course, I want to go to museums sometimes, but I don’t have the time.”
It is a long season with a lot of travelling. What do you usually do, along with your teammates, to entertain yourselves while you travel?
“I like to watch some movies and also, I am reading some books. I like to read books. I read a lot of them when I travel. I like some classic books like Remarque, something like that.”
You will play four of your last seven games on the road and host Fenerbahce and CSKA, too. What will it take for Khimki to give that extra push and eventually reach the playoffs?
“Just play hard, play tough. Of course, if we want to beat teams like this, we will need to play very good defence We need to play for 40 minutes. If we play hard for 38 minutes, any of these teams can come back and win the game. We need to play together, like we did in the last couple of games, trust each other and our coaches.”