Road to Playoffs: CSKA Moscow

Apr 12, 2021 by Print
Road to Playoffs: CSKA Moscow

For the 16th time since the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague re-introduced the playoffs ahead of the 2004-05 season, CSKA Moscow is one of the eight teams fighting for a spot at the Final Four. CSKA has earned the home-court advantage for every one of its series and always won to clinch a Final Four berth. It only missed the playoffs in 2011.

This season, CSKA shook off a slow start, in which it lost two of its first five games, and did so in style by reeling off a 12-game winning streak, the longest in the 2020-21 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. It started with an 84-75 victory over Valencia Basket in the team's final game in October. CSKA would not lose again until 2021.

The winning streak ended with a 95-93 loss TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. In the meantime, CSKA registered some high-quality wins. It defeated Real Madrid 74-73 at home in Round 11 on an outstanding go-ahead, four-point play by Mike James . In the first Leningradka Derby against Khimki Moscow Region, James had 36 points, 9 rebounds, 10 assists and a season-high PIR of 51. CSKA also thrashed Anadolu Efes Istanbul 100-65 and edged AX Armani Exchange Milan 87-91 on that winning streak. Against Milan, CSKA set a new EuroLeague record for most offensive rebounds, 30. Nikola Milutinov had 16 of them.

Just as CSKA was cruising, the injury bug hit with Will Clyburn and Daniel Hackett lost to ankle injuries. Despite the outstanding play of the EuroLeague MVP for November, James, and the MVP for December, Milutinov, the injuries were too much to initially overcome and after that Round 18 defeat against Baskonia, CSKA went on to lose six of its next 10 games, dropping to fourth place in the standings with an 18-10 record. It lost at home against four playoff-bound teams - FC Barcelona, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, FC Bayern Munich and Milan – and suffered a 30-point road loss at Efes. In that stretch, Milutinov was lost for the rest of the season and the team revamped its roster by signing Michael Eric at center and guard Iffe Lundberg.

CSKA regrouped and turned things around. First, CSKA returned to winning ways with an 89-96 victory against Real in the Spanish capital behind 23 points from Will Clyburn. Coach Dimitris Itoudis was forced to continue shuffling his roster after Joel Bolomboy was also injured and Mike James was suspended.

Despite those hurdles, CSKA locked down a playoff spot in Round 32 by downing Zenit St Petersburg 74-86 at Sibur Arena. Johannes Voigtmann scored 21 points and Toko Shengelia added 14, proving that CSKA's frontcourt remained strong despite the injuries.

Two days later, CSKA bested Khimki 97-72 to secure home-court advantage in the playoffs. Voigtmann was CSKA’s top performer with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Iffe Lundberg also scored 16. To date, in 14 EuroLeague Playoffs series, CSKA having the home-court advantage has translated into a Final Four berth every time.

Because the 2019-20 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CSKA remains the EuroLeague's defending champion, which leads to an interesting fact. CSKA has the chance to win consecutive EuroLeague titles for the first time in club history. It would become the 10th club to successfully defend its title in EuroLeague history and the first since Olympiacos Piraeus in 2013.