It is always a special game when Cory Higgins plays against CSKA Moscow. Higgins started his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague career with CSKA and stayed for four extremely successful seasons. He helped CSKA reach four consecutive Final Fours, lifting the EuroLeague trophy twice, in 2016 and 2019. Upon his return on Friday night, Higgins was rewarded with a nice pre-game ovation from CSKA fans.
Higgins had the game marked on his calendar and arrived in stellar form after having led lead Barcelona to a 75-87 road win against Khimki Moscow Region with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals for a PIR of 28 three nights earlier.
For a fourth consecutive game, Barcelona was without three major contributors – Victor Claver, Brandon Davies and Nikola Mirotic – but Higgins was ready to play well on CSKA's court at Megasport Arena once again.
And play well is an understatement for what Higgins did to his old team. He was the game's dominant force from start to finish, piling up 25 points on 9-for-13 two-point shooting and perfect 7-for-7 free throws, adding 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and 6 fouls drawn for a PIR of 28. He stepped up with several critical three-point plays, including an acrobatic one that sealed the outcome, 70-82, with under 3 minutes left.
Higgins is not the only Barcelona player who wins a lot against CSKA in Moscow. Point guard Nick Calathes has now won his last three games at Megasport Arena, and in spectacular fashion, too.
First, Calathes buried a game-winning three-point shot for his old team, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, in a 77-78 road win against CSKA on March 15, 2019. Then, he forced overtime with another three-pointer and finished with 18 assists, one shy of the EuroLeague's all-time record, as Panathinaikos won 102-104 in Moscow on January 3, 2020. And this time, Calathes was good for 13 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in Barcelona's win on Friday.
Calathes and Higgins combined for two of the most spectacular plays of the night, almost identical to one another, one in each half. In both instances, Calathes used his outstanding court vision to send length-of-the-court passes to Higgins for fastbreak slams.
CSKA hustled all game, outrebounding Barcelona by 42-35, pulling down 18 offensive boards, limiting turnovers to just 7 and finishing with more assists, 15-14. That allowed CSKA to have a higher team PIR than Barcelona, 88-83. What allowed Barcelona to win the game? Head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius gave a very simple explanation that sums it up.
"Ultimately, our guys hit some shots," he said afterward. "In this game, you have to put the ball in the basket, sometimes is as simple as that.
Indeed, Barcelona simply shot the ball much better, especially from beyond the arc. The guests buried 12 of 27 three-pointers (44.4%) as compared to CSKA's 4 of 21 (19.1%). That and Barcelona limiting CSKA to low two-point shooting (42%) were the keys of the game.
After completing a perfect week in Moscow, Barcelona should bring Mirotic back to its lineup soon. He was back in Barcelona, practicing individually and waiting to re-join the team. His presence will be needed, too, as Barcelona faces a tough schedule, visiting Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade next week and facing Zenit St Petersburg and Olympiacos Piraeus in subsequent double-round.