It was a long time coming, but Will Clyburn sent a message that every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague heard on Wednesday. He is back and ready to lead CSKA Moscow to lofty heights once again.
The 2019 Final Four MVP, Clyburn suffered a torn ACL in his fourth game last season and did not return to the courts until the start of this season. After a slow start in Round 1, Clyburn starred in a Round 2 home win over Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv. And in Round 3, he let it all hang out.
Clyburn finished the game against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul with 26 points - 1 shy of his personal-best scoring mark in the competition - plus 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 7 fouls drawn for a PIR of 27. What's more important was not how many points Clyburn scored, but when he did. The forward came alive in crunch time and put CSKA on his shoulders all the way to a good-as-gold road victory.
Lorenzo Brown hit free throws to give Fenerbahce a 69-66 lead with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. Clyburn did not hesitate to step up and bury a step-back three-pointer that tied the game and eventually allowed his team to force overtime. And Clyburn was far from done.
Even when CSKA led most of the way in overtime, Brown put Fenerbahce ahead 77-75 with 21 seconds left. Clyburn got the ball, drove through the lane, got fouled by Jan Vesely and scored at the basket. He also hit the additional free throw for a 1-point lead and a final defensive stop allowed CSKA to win the game.
"It is great for my confidence," Clyburn said after the game. "I worked really hard this off-season. Obviously, that is not an easy injury to recover from and I made it a goal to get back to who I was, and even get better. I am happy to be back. I am happy to be back with the team and helping."
CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis talked extensively about Clyburn in the official press conference: "First of all, I am blessed to have such a person and such a competitor. And of course, CSKA is really lucky to have him, coming back and being healthy. Will is not at his best, it is going to take time, and I am seeing now that he had such a performance. For sure, he has a lot of fuel in his tank and we just wish him to stay healthy and competitive, as he always is.
"Will is not only bringing the execution, but also a lot of other things. he can be a leader on the court without touching the ball. He can defend and say the words that exactly needed to be said at the crucial moments. He is always performing at the highest level."
Clyburn was a steady force for CSKA throughout the game and went on to dominate when it mattered most. CSKA now knows that it can rely on his energy and effective leadership when it takes on ALBA Berlin on Friday night.