|As a fresh-faced talent in his first Euroleague season, Viktor Khryapa started for the CSKA Moscow team that reached the 2003 Final Four, its first in several years. Eight seasons later, Khryapa is playing a big and unusual role - that of passing power forward - in trying to make sure that CSKA continues the Final Four streak he helped start. Khryapa, who was named the Sportingbet MVP of the Month for March, is also trying to become the first Euroleague player all decade to rank among the best 10 players in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He and CSKA hold a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five playoff against Caja Laboral, but now face Game 3 on the road in Vitoria, Spain. Despite four wins this season over Caja Laboral, Khryapa's experience tells him not to be impatient now. "For sure, everybody wants to shorten the series and win quickly, but I have experience in this, and what you want doesn't always happen," Khryapa told Euroleague.net. "It will be twice as hard to win now as it was in Moscow. We have to think about one game at a time."
Sportingbet MVP of the Month for March: Viktor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow
Viktor, congratulations on being MVP of the month for March. How do you feel about being chosen for this honor?
"It's a surprise for me because I don't have super stats. But our team is winning, everyone is playing well together and I hope that what I do is helping that process. I am pretty excited to be chosen the MVP."
Your whole season has been very interesting, playing power forward but leading the league in steals and the team in assists. Were you expecting that role when the season started?
"My strong side is being a versatile player. Last season I played small forward, this season I am a power forward because of how our roster is. We have a new coach, a new style, the roster changed from players leaving or being injured. But we found our way, and my role is what looked like was best for the team, not to score so much as to share the ball and play good defense."
Did the role come naturally to you or did you and head coach Evgeniy Pashutin decide to emphasize certain things?
"It's both. Coach Pashutin figured out what was the best way for me to play to help the team. But I am glad to do it, because I enjoy playing that way."
No team has ever won back-to-back games by 20 points before last week. Is CSKA playing its best basketball right now?
"It's hard to say, but we played good defense in two important games, for all 40 minutes. That's what made the lead reach 20 points: we played hard and played at the same level all game long. Usually, that is difficult. Teams always have ups and downs. But the last two games, we played at the same level the whole 40 minutes, and that was a high level, especially on defense."
March started with a big game in Malaga, right after CSKA's 10-game win streak had been broken. Apart from clinching a Playoffs berth, how important was it to avoid losing against Unicaja?
"We had lost the second of two back-to-back games with Prokom, the main reason being that we played bad defense, and everyone knew it. The next game was on the road, a long trip against a good team, Unicaja, but we knew what we had to do, so we felt that everything was in our hands. We had a great start thanks to good defense, and were ahead by a lot. In the end, we were tired and they came back, but the difference we had built up was too big."
Next came CSKA beating Zalgiris to end the Top 16. Although it didn't affect the standings, how did it help get ready for the playoffs?
"CSKA always wants to play well, whatever the tournament or position we're in, even with everything settled already like that night. The target is always the same: to win every game. We played well and won, and for sure it gives confidence every time you win."
Your playoff opponent, Caja Laboral, is considered very dangerous. How did CSKA prepare Game 1 to defuse that danger so quickly?
"We saw Caja Laboral twice during the regular season, so we knew their strengths. We also scouted their Top 16 games because they played against Khimki on Russian TV. We knew what to do and prepared well. Mostly, we knew that Caja Laboral is a difficult team, but we had the advantage of playing in front of our fans. Everyone was ready and mainly we got a lot of stops defensively. In the playoffs, it's a different style of play than in the Top 16 and the regular season, but it all came together and we played great that night."
In Game 2, Caja Laboral was as close as 5 points at halftime, and probably getting confidence back. CSKA came out for the second half and won the game in a matter of minutes. How?
"In the second game, they started well, yes. They changed their starting lineup, with Tiago Splitter in there again, and they were more aggressive. They made it hard for us and we struggled early. When we came out in the second half, we knew again that our defense was the answer. Only good defense gives us the confidence we need on offense, and we played good team defense at that moment."
Heading to Vitoria for Game 3, are you impatient to finish the series or trying to avoid impatience?
"For sure, everybody wants to shorten the series and win quickly. But I have experience in this, and what you want doesn't always happen. We've got to expect a tough game. In the playoffs, every game is different. We won two games, but now we're on the road. The fans are great here in Vitoria and the team will fight for sure. It will be twice as hard to win now as it was in Moscow. We have to think about one game at a time."
Back in 2002-03 you were on the team that started CSKA's long Final Four streak. What would it mean to make it eight Final Fours in a row by going to Paris?
"It means consistency first. And consistency means a good level of everything, starting from players to management and going all the way to the fans, all helping the team do well. It's not like a club that has good luck and is in the Final Four one year and out the next. This streak means the club is serious and there is good chemistry coming from the inside."