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CSKA routs Khimki to clinch final

VTB League holder wins the semifinal decider in the main rival’s packed arena, earning the right to defend the title

CSKA Moscow clinched its fifth consecutive VTB League final after routing Khimki 87-64 in the decisive Game 5 of the semifinal series. Forward Andrei Vorontsevich scored all of his 11 points in the third quarter, fueling a CSKA run that saw defending champs tear away for good after a 37-37 tie in the first half. Ettore Messina’s men will now face Lokomotiv Kuban of Krasnodar in the final, which begins on June 3 in Moscow.

With starting center Alexander Kaun sidelined by a knee injury, Messina surprised the hosts by choosing his third option Dmitry Sokolov over experienced Nenad Krstic. Messina’s counterpart Rimas Kurtinaitis stuck to his strategy and again decided to rest his best shooter Vitaly Fridzon, putting Yegor Vyaltsev on the floor in his stead. Sokolov wasn’t shy in attacking the rim and his five points early on helped CSKA build its first seven-point lead, 13-6. It thawed soon, though, but jumped back to seven again in the second period, forcing Khimki to launch yet another run. In the 15th minute Kresimir Loncar’s basket gave the hosts their first lead of the night, 28-27, and from then on it was a neck-and-neck race till the end of first half.

After the break everything changed. An omnipresent Vorontsevich scored, blocked shots, rebounded the ball and enthused his teammates as CSKA gradually took over and never looked back. During those 10 minutes the 25-year-old forward scored 11 points without a single miss from the floor in five attempts, nailed a three-pointer, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter Khimki stared at a 12-point margin, 47-59 – exactly the same gap they spectacularly bridged in Wednesday’s Game 4 in Moscow.

Not this time.

Pressed for time, Fridzon, Planinic and Co. rushed to score, but shots weren’t falling and haste often resulted in turnovers. CSKA’s defense was mobile, focused and tough on the ball, while on the other end Messina’s shooters tormented Khimki defenders en route to scoring 28 points in the last quarter. Sonny Weems led the way, scoring 11 straight points during a four-minute stretch.

CSKA is a three-time VTB League winner, having captured the trophy in 2009, 2010 and 2012. It will vie for its fourth title against Lokomotiv Kuban, which is about to make its maiden appearance in the final. The team from southern Russia, coached by Yevgeny Pashutin, Messina’s former assistant and successor at CSKA four years ago, has enjoyed a magnificent season, winning Eurocup and securing its first-ever Euroleague appearance in the 2013-14 campaign.

Game 1 of the finals is scheduled June 3 in Moscow. Other dates in the 2-2-1 format series include June 4 (Moscow), June 6 and 7 (Krasnodar) and June 9 (Moscow), the last two to be played if necessary.

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