Kosta Koufos: “Focus on defensive end helped us win”

Nicolas Laprovittola drove to the basket and then threw the ball to Felipe Reyes, who was standing alone in the corner. The Real Madrid veteran took his time and knocked down a three-pointer. The scoreboard flashed 14-26 with 7:48 remaining in the second quarter. The visitors had just built their biggest lead of the night against CSKA, and Dimitris Itoudis immediately called a time-out.

On Dec. 5, the “Army” had dug itself an almost identical hole against Zalgiris on the same floor, trailing by 12 after 14 minutes of play. Then, Itoudis’s team fought back and prevailed in overtime as Mike James nailed a winning three-pointer to beat the buzzer.

On Tuesday, James – along with fellow guard Darrun Hilliard – ignited CSKA’s offense again and scored some key baskets, but it was CSKA’s defensive team effort that helped turn the game around.

The baskets were hard to come by – early in the third period both teams couldn’t make a shot for nearly three-and-a-half minutes as the score froze at 28-33. The “Army” kept fighting on the boards and chipping at the Spanish giant’s lead. Midway through the third quarter, James capped a 6-0 run with a three-pointer for CSKA’s first lead of the night, 34-33.

In the nail-biting finale, it all came down to a couple of possessions. Hilliard made a three to stretch the reigning EuroLeague champs’ lead to four, 58-54, and Kyle Hines on the other end stole a pass from Sergio Llull to seal the win.

After the game, CSKA’s Greek center Kosta Koufos had no doubts about what sparked his team’s comeback after being 12 points down.

“You got to give credit where credit is due, Real Madrid is a great team. In the second half, we locked in and focused more on the defensive end. Fortunately for us, we had some good stops, but we had to keep pushing through,” Koufos told TalkBasket.net.

In the early stages of the game, Real Madrid’s shooters were tormenting the hosts with threes, hitting four of their first six attempts. After halftime, though, CSKA contested nearly every shot and limited the visitors to only three makes of 17.

“We knew that they have a lot of firepower on the bench and on the starting five, but we just wanted to continue playing CSKA basketball. We understood that they were going to hit shots, but we just continued to be aggressive on defense and do what’s right.”

At the end of the day, CSKA outrebounded the opponent 44-37, and Koufos provided a key contribution on the glass with six boards.

“The coach believes that rebounding is very important, and we felt that if we played hard defensively, everything else would fall in place,” the Greek big man said.

Koufos was humble in victory as he described the battles he and his teammates fought in the paint against one of Europe’s best frontcourts.

“They’re great players, Tavares is very tall and protects the paint very well. Mickey and everybody else are great players as well. I know they’re missing power forward Anthony Randolph, and fortunately for us, we came out with a victory, that’s the most important thing,” summed up Koufos.