The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague said goodbye to 2020 with an exciting and memorable showdown between AX Armani Exchange Milan and CSKA Moscow at Mediolanum Forum on Wednesday night. The visitors prevailed 87-91 to extend their winning streak to 12 games, but even though CSKA led for most of the game, overtime was needed to decide the winner.
In a duel in which several players faced their former teams, it was Daniel Hackett who deserved the spotlight in the extra 5 minutes thanks to an incredible run. With the game on the line at 82-84 with 3 minutes to go, the Italian guard took over to score his team’s last 7 points - including key back-to-back three-pointers - to wrap up another CSKA victory.
The starring role he played was even more remarkable after having missed the last four EuroLeague games due to illness. But Hackett returned to action in style, as Coach Dimitris Itoudis pointed out in the post-game press conference: "Daniel [Hackett] was playing like he never missed a game although he was like 15 days out."
Before Hackett appeared to seal the outcome in overtime, CSKA needed to use some other assets to hold off its opponent.
"The game was decided for, of course, the incredible number of offensive rebounds they secured, or that we gave up. It depends, it is always 50-50. They were very aggressive and did a fantastic job, but probably we did not do enough to prevent that from happening. That was the game," regretted Milan Coach Ettore Messina after the game.
It's hard to object to those statements, as the reigning champs outrebounded Milan 60-33. That dominance under the glass allowed CSKA to set a EuroLeague record for offensive rebounds and it was not far from a record for most total rebounds. But it also said something else, in the opinion of Coach Itoudis: "The fact you see numbers, huge numbers, I think it’s one of the records, 60 rebounds, it has a both-way translation, definitely, like we were missing. We haven't played our best game."
Certainly, CSKA didn't shoot well, as it went for 41.7% on two-pointers and 30.6% from beyond the arc. But the 30 offensive boards CSKA collected in the Milan paint turned into 28 second-chance points, giving the visitors a valuable tool to make up for their bad shooting.
The extraordinary figures in rebounding had some extra interpretations, too, for Coach Itoudis: "We dominated the boards, that shows a tremendous wish regardless of the situation," he said. "I'm very satisfied with the way the team reacted and I want to keep that spirit. We played together, we believe in what we are doing and that's healthy. Even though we didn’t have our best day, we were there on each and every possession, so congratulations to the team."