Darussafaka makes CSKA work hard to maintain perfect record

Nando De Colo drives past Ray McCollum during CSKA vs. Darussafaka EuroLeague game in Moscow, Oct. 18, 2018. Photo: EuroLeague

Another night, another win. Having trounced Barcelona Lassa in last week’s EuroLeague opener at Megasport Arena, CSKA Moscow edged Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul on Thursday (79-75) in a close game to maintain a perfect 3-0 start to the season. Sandwiched between the two home wins was an extremely important victory away in Tel Aviv, where the “Army”, carried by an inspired Nando De Colo, beat Maccabi on Tuesday 89-86. Amid a gruelling schedule, CSKA remains unbeaten in the new season, having also posted a 3-0 record in the VTB United league.

This week though, Darussafaka had a fine chance to snap the seven-time European champs’ winning streak. Over the course of the first half, the visitors were patient, focused and smart, as they gradually built their lead. Early in the third quarter, Ahmet Çakı’s men were up by nine points, taking advantage of CSKA’s poor shooting display and porous defense. However, the hosts regrouped and went on a 24-6 scoring romp in the remainder of the period, seeming to put away the game for good.

Before the final 10 minutes of play, CSKA was up by nine points, and early in the fourth quarter gained its biggest lead of the night, when U.S. rookie Alec Peters made a three-pointer to extend the margin to 13 (63-50). Peters was nailing threes, Cory Higgins was slicing Darussafaka’s defense, and their teammates followed suit, but instead of getting trampled – as many CSKA opponents do when the Muscovites start firing on all cylinders – the Turkish team fought to the end and was close to staging a surprise comeback. Darussafaka refused to give up and was patiently chipping away at CSKA’s lead, eventually trimming it to just four points (76-72) after a Jon Diebler three-pointer with 1:17 left to play in regulation. But the miracle didn’t happen – on CSKA’s next possession Sergio Rodriguez created his own shot and hit a jumper to stretch the margin back to six. On the other end, Michael Eric scored to immediately cancel the Spanish point guard’s basket (78-74), and courtesy of a De Colo missed three-pointer and a defensive rebound by Eric, Darussafaka had the ball 25 seconds before the final buzzer. The game was decided on that very play, when Ray McCallum was called for an offensive foul for pushing De Colo with his left hand as he was receiving a pass from Stanton Kidd, with 18.3 seconds remaining. In the closing moments, Higgins and Eric traded free throws to set the final score.

Next Friday, CSKA will try to extend its winning streak when it plays Gran Canaria in Las Palmas. After making a strong impression in Moscow, Darussafaka will host Barcelona in Istanbul, also on Friday.

MOSCOW TAKEAWAYS

After last week’s 12,023 attendance on EuroLeague opening night against Barcelona Lassa, the fans’ turnout on Thursday was modest with only 4,712 in the stands. Before the game, a minute of silence was observed to honor the late FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann and the victims of a mass shooting at a vocational school in the Crimean city of Kerch. As Russia mourned the deaths of innocent teenagers and their teachers, CSKA accordingly abandoned its traditional pregame entertainment show.

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In the first quarter, the home team relied heavily on Nikita Kurbanov’s remarkable scoring effort. The forward finished the period with 11 points, but despite his display it was still a one-possession game when the buzzer sounded – Jon Diebler grabbed an offensive rebound and sank a floater to cut the deficit to two points, 19-17. CSKA was lacking the trademark offensive punch of its stars coming off the bench as Rodriguez, Hines, Higgins, Will Clyburn and newcomer Alec Peters all went scoreless in the first 10 minutes.

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CSKA struggled to make shots in the first half, especially from the three-point range, converting only two of 15 attempts. The Red-and-Blues were doing a decent job of sharing the ball, and were creating plenty of open shots, but the ball just wouldn’t go in. Wasted opportunities hurt CSKA’s assists stat sheet as the team finished the first half with only four “dishes”. Offensively, Dimitris Itoudis’ squad “woke up” in the third quarter, with Peters emerging as the X factor: the American rookie made two threes, which ignited CSKA’s run to erase the nine-point deficit, and then added his third in the fourth quarter.

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The teams finished the game with identical shooting percentages for two points (50 percent) and from the free throw line (78 percent). CSKA shot poorly from long range, making only 5 of 26 attempted threes (19 percent), Darussafaka was slightly better at 27 percent (6-of-22). The hosts made more assists (12-9), had an edge on the boards (44 rebounds to 40), and were better at securing possession (only seven turnovers against Darussafaka’s 12). Eric notched a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, earning 26 index points, the highest tally in both teams.