CSKA Moscow coach ponders the future of his revamped team as the Russian powerhouse keeps its Euroleague record clean after beating Budivelnik Kiev at home Friday.
Alternating good and bad stretches CSKA Moscow defeated visiting newcomer Budivelnik Kiev 72-67 Friday in its 2013/14 Euroleague season home opener and grabbed a second win in as many games.
In front of the 4,300-strong crowd the hosts struggled early on as Ricky Minard’s layup in the seventh minute built a seven-point cushion for Ukrainian underdogs, 11-18. CSKA responded immediately, igniting an 11-0 run that extended into the second quarter and was capped by Vitaly Fridzon’s three-pointer.
CSKA remained in control until halftime, but sloppy ball control and lack of focus early in the third saw the five-point lead thaw as Budivelnik fought back with a 7-0 run and surged ahead, 32-34, after a Micah Downs putback dunk.
Trailing by four midway through the third quarter (35-39), CSKA regrouped, tigthened up its defense and held the opponent scoreless during a 9-0 surge that ended on a Vlado Micov corner 3 off a smart pass by Aaron Jackson.
Budivelnik kept fighting, but CSKA captain Viktor Khryapa, scoreless in the first three quarters, delivered big time in the final period scoring eight points, including two long-range baskets.
Downs almost single-handedly kept Budivelnik in the game, raining three-pointers in the fourth, but it was all over at 1:12 remaining in regulation after Khryapa’s layup stretched the CSKA lead to 11, 70-59. The Ukrainians’ last-ditch effort only reduced the gap to five as Minard beat the buzzer with a two-point basket.
Milos Teodosic paced CSKA with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Downs was the top scorer with 23 points.
“The game was influenced by our horrible starts in the first and second halves. In the first we went down by seven points and in the second we burnt all our lead – we were up by five and we went down three. After that we had to fight and work hard to recover [the lead]. The moment we recovered, we also saw good things in terms of desire and will to do things [on the floor],” CSKA head coach Ettore Messina told reporters after the game.
According to the Italian tactician, the Budivelnik game confirmed CSKA was still “chasing the best balance for this team.” Asked why the team is not yet ready to play 40 minutes in the same rhythm, he replied that the problem was hardly “that much technical.”
“We need to find a little bit of happiness in what we do, a little bit of desire… a little bit of this (gestures with both hands thrusting forward), and now we are a little bit too much like this (alternately looks sideways over his shoulders). We need to grow up as a team, but you grow up as a team as you grow up as individuals. It might take a lot of time,” the four-time Euroleague winner said.
Messina explained that his team’s current problems weren’t psychological, but a “problem of attitude.” In the offseason CSKA signed Jeremy Pargo, Kyle Hines, Vitaly Fridzon and Grigory Shukhovtsov in a bid to revamp the roster of the team that last spring clinched its tenth Euroleague Final Four in 11 years, but failed to reach the final. With the new roster heavily loaded with stars, Messina faced the inevitable task of redefining some of his players’ roles.
“We just have the problem to move our ass. In some moments it’s heavy, in some others – it’s light, and then we run and jump and dive and help and fight!” the coach explained.
“When everybody is happy with his role on this team, the team will have clear roles. As long as somebody is not happy with his role, that role is not clear,” he said, adding that if such kind of attitude persists, CSKA could end up getting blown out in the next two games against Fenerbahce and Barcelona.
However, the coming matchups with two of the tournament’s favorites could help mobilize the team, thinks the 54-year-old coach. “Maybe the presence of a strong, big name opponent will make [things] easier and smoother… Usually, the emergency of fighting a big battle has everybody more focused on accepting what they have to do and with more good will. We could not stay like we were last season – back then we just got close and close is not enough to try to make the final step. We need to have a deep and more powerful team to hope to be competitive in Final Four. So we just need probably one game when everybody is happy in what they’re doing, no matter if it’s a little or a lot. And from that moment probably the team will grow,” the coach said.
Responding to a question whether his hint at troubles his players have adapting to new roles primarily concerned Teodosic who has been moved to shooting guard with the arrival of Pargo, Messina replied that the changes weren’t radical.
“He’s just not dribbling the ball and calling the play, but at the end he’s still [involved] in pick-and-rolls that were his best weapon last year. Everybody is part of adaptation – for sure, Jeremy is, and Sonny [Weems] is. When you have big changes and add big personalities to this team, sometimes you go through games when you probably don’t touch the ball for five minutes. And if this affects you in terms of trusting the plan, the mission, then we have a problem,” concluded Messina.
In the last decade, CSKA has been the perennial Euroleague title contender, not missing a single Final Four in 2003-2010. During that stretch the legendary franchise won two titles in 2006 and 2008, both under Messina. During his first, four-year stint with the red-and-blue giants Messina also won three consecutive Russian championships and two Russian Cups.