It has been a long time coming, but Khimki Moscow Region finally gained its first victory of the season by breezing past Herbalife Gran Canaria 87-72 in the Russian capital on Friday night.
The winning margin would have been a lot bigger if Khimki hadn’t mentally relaxed in the final quarter, allowing Gran Canaria to practically halve the deficit after the scoreline stood at 83-55 with seven minutes remaining. But that late spurt from the visiting team never seriously threatened to overturn the outcome and, considering everything they had suffered in the previous couple of games, it was perfectly understandable that Khimki allowed themselves to chill out in the final stages when the victory was already assured.
After all, this is a team which had suffered consecutive heart-breaking losses in the last two weeks, going down in Rounds 3 and 4 by just 1 point against Anadolu Efes Istanbul and AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, and losing both those games in the final seconds to see victory cruelly slip through their fingers.
This time around, Khimki was not leaving anything to chance. Rather than preserving a slender lead which might give Gran Canaria the opportunity to come back and inflict more last-gasp pain, the Russian team kept its foot on the gas, turning a 4-point advantage at the end of the first into a 16-point lead by half-time and a 24-point margin after three quarters. By then, the game was clearly won, and Khimki’s players allowed themselves an enormous collective sigh of relief as they relaxed in the knowledge there would be no late drama this time around.
And with that weight lifted from their shoulders, Georgios Bartzokas’s men can now aim to go from strength to strength in the coming weeks.