Game of Week: Bayern knocks on CSKA's door

Oct 10, 2019 by Frank Lawlor, Print
Game of Week: Bayern knocks on CSKA's door

Two clubs with well over 150 years of collective basketball history between them take the stage on Thursday for the second Game of the Week in the new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season.

CSKA Moscow, tonight's host team, needs no introduction to basketball fans, while FC Bayern Munich is one of the most recognized sports brands in the world.

This will be just their fifth game ever against each other, the first of which came barely five years ago. CSKA has won all four previous matchups. Oddly, the defending EuroLeague champions have done that by an average of 24.5 points when playing Bayern in Munich, but by just 7.0 points when they have met in the Russian capital.

Even though it's only Round 2, this game holds significant opportunity for Bayern, which from its football side knows what it takes to be elite. Oe of the ingredients is beating other elite teams. If that can happen on the road, the impact is even greater.

It is CSKA's kind of basketball greatness that Bayern aspires to. It is marked by both quality and consistency. Bayern has taken its first steps in that direction this decade, by winning three German League titles in the last six years after not having done so since the 1950s. This is also Bayern's fifth season in the EuroLeague, which is saying something for a club that was in the German second division when the decade began.

Great coaching is another ingredient of success that both teams can boast with two of the most-accomplished coaches under age 50 on the continent.

CSKA's Dimitris Itoudis is fast establishing himself among the all-time greats, with two EuroLeague titles in five seasons, plus the five trophies he won as an assistant coach with Panathinaikos. Dejan Radonjic coached Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade for four EuroLeague seasons before taking over at Bayern last year. A mid-season home win against CSKA helped Radonjic take underdog Zvezda to the 2016 playoffs, where they came within a whisker of an upset in Game 2 in Moscow, losing 77-76 before being swept in the series. What both coaches have in common is a love for execution that makes their teams a joy to watch at both ends of the floor.

In CSKA's case, success has proven that such execution can overcome even an outflow of talent like the team had after winning the title last spring. Round 1 showed that the CSKA system is unfazed. It didn't miss a beat in demolishing Valencia Basket 71-96 on the road.

Bayern's Round 1 win, though at home, was similarly impressive, as it seized the night from AX Armani Exchange Milan in emphatic fashion, 78-64. All eyes tonight will be on Mike James, who joined CSKA over the summer after leaving Milan despite being last season's top scorer in the EuroLeague. His 20 points in fewer minutes on perfect field goal shooting in Valencia hinted that James might get even better in CSKA's system. Should he keep it up, the home fans in Moscow will have a new scoring hero to love. No less impressive was another CSKA perimeter acquisition, lesser known Darrun Hilliard, who led them with 22 points.

Bayern built its win over Milan by relying on both trusted holdovers and newcomers. The trio of Vladimir Lucic (18), Nihad Dedovic (16) and Maodo Lo (12) accounted for almost 60% of the team's 48 points. New arrivals Greg Monroe, Paul Zipser and DeMarcus Nelson had most of the rest, demonstrating that they fit in well.

When they last played in Moscow earlier this year, Bayern led CSKA 52-57 going into the fourth quarter, but the future champs restored order quickly and won 77-70. Bayern would later miss the playoffs by one victory.

But if Bayern didn't know how to handle the prosperity of a late lead against CSKA on its own floor nine months ago, rest assured that the visitors are learning. Bayern will keep knocking on the door of the elite – until it breaks that door down. Tonight is another opportunity to do so.