After a 4-0 start to the regular season, defending Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion CSKA Moscow struggled more than usual.
After star forward Will Clyburn, last season's Final Four MVP, was lost to a severe knee injury, CSKA went on to drop four of its next six games, including consecutive road losses in Spain against KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and Real Madrid last week. CSKA returned to Spain for a third consecutive road game, this one against the co-leader after 10 rounds, FC Barcelona, but things were very different this time.
CSKA played what was arguably its best game of the season, handing FC Barcelona its first home loss in dominant fashion, 67-96. Coach Dimitris Itoudis's team did everything right: CSKA had a season-high team PIR of 116 even when none of its players reached the 20-PIR mark individually. CSKA had six players score in double digits, led by Mike James, who had 14 in his first game coming off the bench after 49 consecutive starts in the competition with three different teams. Nikita Kurbanov, the ultimate team player, was the perfect example of CSKA's big victory. He had 8 points in a 4-14 run late in the first half that gave CSKA its first significant lead, 38-51, at the break. He also matched a career-high with 4 assists and finished the game with a team-best PIR of 19.
CSKA shot the ball with really solid percentages (68.8% 2FG, 46.7% 3FG, 83.3% FT) and dished 24 assists, its best mark of the season and 10 more than Barca. Three-point shots truly made the difference in this game. Not only did CSKA hit 14-of-30, but it also limited Barcelona to just 2 of 18 from long range. That three-point shooting percentage (11.1%) was Barcelona's lowest since 2013.
Kyle Hines made one of CSKA's 14 three-point shots. His first three-pointer in 264 EuroLeague career games came with 3:13 remaining in the fourth quarter, prompting joy on CSKA's bench, which Hines joked about it after the game:
"I made my first three-point shot after 10 years! If I make one in 10 years, it is not too bad. Not too bad at all!" Hines said. "One my teammates said, 'If you are making threes, then everything is going right for us!' So it was a perfect night for us, a perfect game. A game that was much-needed for us, for our confidence, and a good morale booster."
After three consecutive road games, CSKA is set to play four of the next six at home, with difficult road showdowns against Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Anadolu Efes Istanbul in between. Coach Itoudis talked about how the team is getting closer to a common goal; playing the kind of basketball CSKA is used to. "I think that today, we really played team ball and involved everybody into the action," Itoudis said. "We played CSKA basketball and this is something we are looking for."
It's something that every opponent should look out for, too, as Barcelona learned to its regret on its own court on Friday.