Andrei Kirilenko and CSKA Moscow: 4/27 – 5/3
Artwork by AK, via CSKA
Of the three leagues that CSKA plays in, the PBL was the last to finish the regular season and first to start the post-season (with just two days in between). Eight of the ten teams in the league go to the Playoffs in best-of-three series, with the top four seeds vying for places in the Final 4 and the bottom four seeds playing for 5th to 8th place.
Relative to the way CSKA’s season has gone, the two games of its semifinal series against Lokomotiv Kuban (No. 4 seed) were close. CSKA (No. 1 seed) won both, but by margins of just 7 (AK’s line: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals in 22 minutes) and 6 (AK’s line: 13 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal in 34 minutes).
In the second game, CSKA was up 19 after three quarters and it looked like AK, who had only sat for one minute of those three quarters, was done for the night. However, Lokomotiv made a late run and cut the lead to 9 with 1:40 left, 6 with 32 seconds left, and 3 with 25 seconds left. AK came back in with 5 minutes remaining in the game, and CSKA fortunately held on for the win.
Three days later on 5/2, CSKA was in (host nation) Lithuania for the Final Four of the VTB United League. CSKA had to make the trip without team captain and AK’s BFF Viktor Khryapa, who had taken ill and therefore stayed behind in Moscow. In the semi-finals, CSKA played hometown favorite Lietuvos Rytas. Before tip-off, AK was presented with his VTB 2011-2012 MVP Award.
CSKA won the game 79-72. The score was tied at 63-63 with 3:30 remaining in the game, but AK hit a 3 on the ensuing possession to put CSKA ahead for good. From the 3:30 mark, AK scored seven points and blocked a shot before fouling out with 11 seconds left and CSKA up five. Line: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in 33 minutes.
The win sent CSKA to the VTB Finals the next day to play UNICS Kazan, which is the only team that plays in all three of the same leagues as CSKA.
With Khryapa unavailable, CSKA Coach Jonas Kazlauskas was afraid to rest AK:
Kazlauskas, post-game: We currently do not have any game in which we can lose. We must win every match. So it has to operate at a maximum.
Q: That’s why Kirilenko ran off in the finals for almost 38 [of 40] minutes?
Kazlauskas: Exactly. And you know perfectly well that I could not let him rest — he is a pillar of protection. With him one game, without him — other. If there was Khryapa, I could give Andrew a break, but in this situation had no such opportunity. (mail.ru)
As mentioned above, AK played 38 minutes while no one else on the team played more than 25. He had a pretty bad shooting night–0 for 5 from inside the arc–but connected on 2-4 three-pointers (go figure). He also collected 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks to go along with his 9 points.
With the 74-62 win over UNICS, CSKA was crowned the 2011-2012 VTB League champs. Following a vote by league officials and journalists, AK was named Final Four MVP and to the Final Four all-league team. The other four players that made the team included CSKA’s Darius Lavrinovic, Lietuvos Rytas’ Jonas Valanciunas, Lokomotiv Kuban’s Roderick Blekni, and UNICS’ Henry Domercant.
Next up: Euroleague Final Four (5/11) and hopefully EL championship.
Final note: AK has shot down rumors/reports that have been circulating in the last few days about him having a 3-year deal in place with the New Jersey Nets. He also said that no one is negotiating with anyone on his behalf at present time.
He did throw rumormongers a bone though, saying that his options for next season and beyond are limited to CSKA and the 30 teams in the NBA, i.e. he won’t be considering a move to another European ball club.