There were many factors behind ALBA Berlin’s thrilling 88-93 victory at CSKA Moscow on Friday night.
The first of those was psychological. After suffering losses by 18 and 21 points in its previous two games, it would have been easy for the German team’s players to head to the Russian capital feeling sorry for themselves and expecting the worst. Instead, as Peyton Siva explained after the win, they took a positive approach: "We went out there to play with ambition to win. We got smacked in the last couple of games but today we wanted to go and play with ambition, heart and try to get the win."
The next ingredient behind ALBA’s unexpected triumph was a dramatic improvement in offensive production. Having scored no more than 73 points in its first three games, adding another 20 to that tally on the road against the reigning European champion was something special. Excellent ball movement to create good shooting positions was crucial, as eight different players were credited with assists led by Jayson Granger and Luke Sikma with 5 apiece in the team total of 20.
Smothering defense was also a factor, as ALBA forced CSKA into committing no less than 19 turnovers. And although Mike James (28 points) and Will Clyburn (25) both had big nights, the German team did a great job in making sure that no other CSKA player was able to reach double digits in scoring.
Another major reason for the success – perhaps even the biggest – was ALBA’s outstanding offensive rebounding. Coach Aito Garcia Reneses’s men grabbed 17 offensive boards, just one short of the club’s EuroLeague record, which helped ALBA take 71 field goal attempts compared to 53 for CSKA. In a close game, that stat obviously made a big difference to the outcome.
Many of those boards were at big moments, too, with Sikma coming up with some particularly important offensive rebounds in his new career high total of 6.
The key phase of the game was the early stages of the fourth quarter, when ALBA build up a double-digit lead which would never be overturned. And that wouldn’t have happened without Sikma’s offensive rebounding: first, he grabbed a missed shot from Markus Eriksson which led to a three-point strike from Jayson Granger. Just over a minute later, he did it again, reacting quickest to rebound a miss from Granger and kicking out a pass for Eriksson to score from deep. And in the last minute when CSKA had narrowed the gap to just 2 points, Sikma rebounded Maodo Lo’s missed shot and converted himself, providing a degree of comfort that allowed ALBA to close out the game.
The extra chances to score provided by ALBA’s offensive rebounding made all the difference to the outcome, sending a reminder that sometimes getting into the right place to grab loose balls can be the most important skill of all.