In addition to losing Nikola Milutinov and Marius Grigonis to injury for Friday’s game against Crvena Zvezda mst Belgrade, CSKA Moscow got additional the bad news that the team’s best contributor so far, Georgia forward Toko Shengelia, has been sidelined for at least two months due to a shoulder injury.
Without being able to count on the Round 2 and 3 MVP, CSKA would need some other players to step up, as visiting Zvezda had already proved itself to be a dangerous and fierce contender by winning its two last games, limiting Maccabi Tel Aviv Playtika Tel Aviv and Zalgiris Kaunas to just 63 and 61 points respectively.
The answer came from an 'old friend', as Alexey Shved enjoyed his best EuroLeague game since he rejoined CSKA this summer. He finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, shooting 6-of-9 from the field, to record a season-high PIR of 25. But, most important, he showed up several times when his team needed a leader and helped CSKA prevail 78-76 over Crvena Zvezda.
"It was a tough game. Everybody knows how tough they play on defense," Shved said referring to his opponent. "They have very good shooters, and we needed to play better, make some rebounds and play better defense in the last 4 minutes," he added.
He was certainly right, as Zvezda was ahead 69-71 with 4:20 remaining after Nate Wolters completed a 0-9 run that jeopardized the home win. But Nikita Kurbanov scored a layup to tie the game and Iffe Lundberg followed with another bucket to swap the lead, then Shved made his a key contribution. First he blocked Austin Hollins in a great defensive move, then went straight down the other end for a crucial triple that made it 76-71 and put the visitors on the ropes in crunch time.
That was not the only highlight Shved provided, as he had also nailed a hard-contested buzzer-beater three-pointer at the end of the third period, tying the game after a great reaction by his team and the prelude of a 10-2 run early in the fourth. It helped consolidate a profound change that CSKA experienced after things had got pretty bad after halftime, with the Serbians enjoying a 43-50 edge after 24 minutes.
"After a sloppy beginning of the third quarter, we changed the chip, we started pressuring the ball, being active, forcing turnovers and creating difficult circumstances for our opponents," stressed CSKA Head Coach Dimitris Itoudis after the win. "The third and the fourth quarters were completely different, as we started to read the situations we were given, starting to attack the right people with the right decisions and better spacing."
Itoudis’s further comments referred to more than statistical or performance figures: "I said to my team that we need to have an identity and this identity is to go out there and hustle, to go out there and play defense."
That identity, as displayed by Shved in the second half, should pay off for the team whenever things don’t work so smoothly: "We are going to have good nights, in which we will make shots, creating, reading good the game," concluded Itoudis. "But we may have others that are not so good, but at least we must have some kind of identity, and that’s what we are looking for."