As fans of CSKA Moscow basketball surely know, Coach Dimitris Itoudis is not one to praise his charges falsely. When he analyzes his team's play after a game, win or lose, he will be honest and point out what his players must do to improve going forward. Itoudis is also quick to complement those who make the difference, but the coach believes in pushing CSKA to get better and works towards his team finishing the season (or marathon as he often calls it) in their finest form.
So imagine the surprise when he labeled CSKA's 94-68 thrashing of KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz as "almost perfect." What he said exactly in his post-game press conference was: "We executed our plan, defensively and offensively, almost perfect."
Lest anyone think that the maestro was patting himself on the back for his game plan, Itoudis made clear what won the game.
"When you are really determined, when you are really decisive, the plan looks perfect, whatever the plan is," Itoudis explained. "When players are so decisive and so determined, they are going to be first on the boards, put their body in jeopardy, they are going to help and close the lanes, gonna use deflections. When we are in that pace, in that mode, everything can happen. And today, at least for three quarters, we were in that mode. And also for most of the time in the first quarter. This is all about the players, their desire, their wish."
It's not easy to show players' effort in the stats, but there were several areas in which CSKA excelled to take Baskonia out of the game. The hosts held the league's leading rebounder, Vincent Poirier, to just 5 boards. CSKA drew 28 fouls, got to the line as many times and made 25 (89.3%). Also, CSKA's defense forced Baskonia into many undesirable shots, including 11 mid-range or long jumpers, while CSKA only fired up 3.
CSKA's victory was not a product of star power. In fact, the contributions were from up and down the roster; seven CSKA players had a performance index rating of at least 10. For Baskonia, only two players reached that number.
One of CSKA's stars summed up what the team did well. "It's playoff time and I think everybody is buying in to what we're doing," said Will Clyburn. "Everybody's bringing that intensity and everybody knows how important it is. Everybody's on the same page defensively and when that happens, we are getting stops and getting on the break."
Call it effort. Call it experience. Call it whatever you want. CSKA had it on Tuesday night and used it in an "almost perfect" way to take command of its playoff series.