Andrei Kirilenko and CSKA Moscow: Week of 11/7
** Both CSKA and Panathinaikos (PAO; reigning Euroleague champs) were undefeated going into this game. PAO’s star, Dimitris Diamantidis (who the British announcer kept referring to as “Demon, tie this”) is the reigning Euroleague MVP and Best Defender.
** PAO has won seven straight against CSKA, including the 2007 and 2009 Euroleague championship games. CSKA has not won against PAO since 2005 and has not won against PAO in Athens since 2004–seven years to the day of this game.
** CSKA’s coach, Jonas Kazlauskas, coached six of PAO’s players (and THE KOOF–Kosta Koufos) as Greek national team head coach in ’09 and ’10.
Quote of the Night — PAO Head Coach Zeljko Obradovic
“We can play much better basketball, than we did tonight. I want to see in the eyes of my players the desire to fight till the end. Keep playing, keep trying. Look at Kirilenko, who never stops to play.” (EL)
In a nutshell: First half was WTF AK. Second half (especially overtime) was A to the MFing K.
Despite a very Jazz-like start (fouls, bad shots, getting dunked on), CSKA didn’t fall behind early. It was 22-19 PAO after one. Afer taking the lead 26-24 early in the second, CSKA went all Deron Williams and became increasingly unhinged over calls against them.* PAO’s lead hit double digits with 2 minutes remaining in the half on a 12-2 run as CSKA went 0-9 from the floor.
*Though, to be fair, the FTA margin was 16-5 in the first half in favor of the home team.
Seems like the first half was shootaround for CSKA, and they woke up and came to play in the 2nd. Another factor in CSKA’s improved play was that Diamantidis was out with foul trouble. They stick mics in the huddles in Euroleague, and PAO’s huddle after the third was a lot of yelling by the coach about “Kirilenko.”
Despite having played 26 of the 30 minutes through three, AK was conspicuously absent in the opening minutes of the fourth. The commentator kept asking, “Where is Kirilenko?” (and then, because it was a one-man commentating team, having to answer his own question “On the bench right now.”)
When AK re-entered the game with 7 minutes left in regulation, CSKA was down 7. Nenad Krstic tied it with FTs with 50 seconds left, but both teams turned the ball over on subsequent possessions. PAO had the ball with 6 seconds left but couldn’t score. Overtime…in which AK blocked PAO players left and right. Meanwhile, Ramunas Siskauskas hit a huge three but CSKA followed that up with a shot clock violation. With five seconds left and CSKA up two, PAO’s Nick Calathes misses a free throw on purpose only to have AK grab the rebound. CSKA then plays hot potato with the ball until the clock runs out.
AK was scoreless on 0-5 shooting in the first half to go along with just 1 rebound and 3 turnovers and an efficiecy rating of -4, which was second worst on the team. By the end of the game, he had 9 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 5 blocks, and the highest rating in the game, +22.
CSKA is now one of two teams in Euroleague with still-perfect records, the other being Barcelona. Barcelona ranks first among all teams in total points scored, fewest points allowed, and total point differential. CSKA ranks second in all three categories.
Deserving Special Mention: The Fans
The Athens crowd was incredible. They were packed in there like sardines and never stopped singing fight songs, even during timeouts. Almost everyone was wearing green (PAO’s team color). It was rowdy and electric; throw in the element of all hell possibly breaking loose* at any moment, and you’ve got what every sporting event should be like.
Combine the atmosphere with lax arena restrictions.** Fans were lighting green flares and sparklers, so the arena pretty much looked like how I imagined it looked when the Dark Mark blazed in a haze of greenish smoke at the Quidditch World Cup.
* The bench has a shield over it. According to CSKA guard Alexey Shved, the players were getting hit by “plastic bottles, coins, lighters” during shootaround and early on in the game.
** Inconceivable! They allow smoking in the arena–or if it’s not allowed, everyone looks the other way. (The smoking, by the way, is my number one pet peeve about Europe.) Reporters were even asking AK after the game whether he’d ever played in a smoky arena before and whether it bothered him.
Unintentional Dirty Quote Machines of the Night
** “Andrei Kirilenko getting no rub tonight.”
** “Goodness me. No protection.”
** “David Logan is just unloading one from way downtown.”
** “Kirilenko…how long is he?!”
I’m sorry to say this, but it feels good to root for a winning team again. And it feels great to feel my pulse race and chest tighten for basketball again.
With the coach resting AK, CSKA won its second game of the week (VTB League) against Polish League champs Asseco Prokom, 74-65. That’s ten consecutive wins for CSKA.