Everything seems to be on the right track for Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. Not only has the team has bounced back to win five of its last seven Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games, but the Serbian powerhouse has finally managed to break a curse that started in the 1970s – getting a EuroLeague win in Russian soil.
Indeed, Zvezda never got a win in Russia - or before that, on the road against the Soviet Union's Russian teams - in the top European competition. In the new millenium, since the current EuroLeague started, Zvezda was 0-10 in Russia, losing five times against CSKA Moscow, twice each against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Khimki Moscow Region, and once against UNICS Kazan. Before that, Zvezda lost against CSKA in 1970, 1973 and 1999.
Zvezda even lost one of the most important games in club history against a Russian team in neutral soil; the 1975 Saporta Cup title game, 63-62 against Spartak Leningrad in Nantes, France. But it all changed against Zenit St Petersburg at Basket Hall Kazan.
It took a near-perfect performance from its starting backcourt and a solid contribution for a couple of newcomers to break the spell. Sharpshooter Billy Baron did everything right to lead Zvezda to a 58-65 win, leading all scorers with 26 points and missing just two shots all night as he went 4-for-4 on two-pointers, 5-for-6 from three-point distance and 3-for-4 at the foul line.
Lorenzo Brown, who has been unstoppable in December, also played a big role, not just because of his numbers – 18 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists – but also because of how he stepped up on crunch time, when Zenit got as close as 54-55. He found newcomer Vladimir Stimac for an easy layup, then connected with James Gist for a three-point play and finally added a second-chance layup that sealed the outcome, 57-62, in the next-to-last minute. In the last five games, all played in December, Brown has averaged 22.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Speaking of newcomers, both Stimac and Marko Jagodic Kuridza gave Zvezda the toughness, intensity and effectiveness required to get a difficult road win. Stimac finished the game with 6 points and 8 rebounds. Jagodic Kuridza, a EuroLeague rookie at age 32, did not score but got 3 rebounds and a critical block on Colton Iverson.
Zvezda limited Zenit to just 32.1% two-point shooting – 9 of 28 – a new club low. Although this was just Zenit's 16th EuroLeague game, neither was the Russian club ever held to such two-point shooting in 117 EuroCup games. Its worst mark in the EuroCup was 34.4% (11 of 32) against Power Electronics Valencia on December 15, 2009.
When the dust settled, Zvezda had finally conquered that elusive EuroLeague road win in Russia. With well-defined roles and newcomers ready to work hard, Zvezda keeps looking better and better.