A new-look CSKA Moscow defeated Zalgiris 87-74 at a packed Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas on the opening night of the Euroleague.
Even though Alexey Shved led all scorers with 19 points on the night, it was Andrei Kirilenko who stole the show, as he hit an impressive double-double of 17 points, 15 rebounds, but also collected five assists and four blocks.
Kirilenko signed for CSKA on a three-year deal with an opt-out clause should the NBA lockout end, but at the moment, the forward is a free agent. The last time he played in Europe was in 2001 and he admitted to being a little rusty to start.
“Some rules are different, but I think I got used to it pretty quick,” Kirilenko joked.
CSKA played as a team tonight and were streets ahead of their Lithuanian counterparts, they led from tip-to-buzzer and sent an early message to the rest of the Euroleague.
It was the Kirilenko and Milos Teodosic show in the first quarter, as the latter drained two triples and the former Jazz man hit seven points as CSKA raced to a 20-10 double-digit advantage as the hosts were getting pounded on the offensive glass.
The Kaunas squad reduced to gap by one after the first ten minutes at 25-16, but it was an early indication of the difference in class between the two teams.
Another former NBA player, Sonny Weems led a Zalgiris revival in the second, by starting an 11-0 run to push Zalgiris to within one-point at 28-27 as the home crowd that saw a Eurobasket final three weeks previous cheered on their side as CSKA were rattled.
Russian veteran Viktor Khryapa silenced the 15,000 strong with a triple, which was responded by Zalgiris’ Marko Popovic.
CSKA though moved up a gear and gave the crowd an exhibition on the game of basketball, as they ended the second quarter on a 12-0 run which was topped-off by a triple from Darjus Lavrinovic to give the Russian champions a 44-31 lead heading to the locker rooms at the half.
A fourth foul for Zalgiris’ Milovan Rakovic weakened their frontcourt, which CSKA exploited on most trips. A Kirilenko put-back dunk was the main highlight as the visitors led 67-52 after three and went on cruise control in the final quarter as the strolled to the finish line.
“We are not yet ready to play at a high level and we knew it,” Zalgiris coach Ilias Zouros admitted. “We need to move on and forget this game.”
CSKA Moscow coach Jonas Kazlauskas was a little more upbeat, as expected afterwards: “It was a good game. It could of been great but both teams were nervous,” he said.