“If you don’t play a very good game, you don’t win in CSKA against Moscow.” So said AX Armani Exchange Milan head coach Ettore Messina after his team did just that on Thursday. And he knows well because Messina had just coached his first game as a visitor in the Russian capital since he first took the reins as the CSKA boss in 2005.
In fact, the victory was Milan’s first road win over CSKA in more than a decade. Milan opened the 2010-11 season with a 73-88 victory in Moscow. On Thursday, the visitors had another historic opening; Milan romped to a 10-30 advantage after 10 minutes in what was the worst difference for CSKA ever in a first quarter at home.
Of course, a great start does not guarantee a victory, as Messina explained: “It’s always difficult when you jump to a lead so early, to keep it. And we kept the lead, we played against a very, very physical and aggressive CSKA for the remaining three quarters and we never collapsed. We kept finding the open man on offense and we kept defending and fighting on the boards.”
A lot of the time, the open man being found was Kevin Punter, who erupted for a career-high 32 points in just his second visit to Megasport Arena. When Messina talked about ” defending and fighting on the boards,” that included the work done by Kyle Hines, who was back in Moscow for the first time after leading CSKA to two EuroLeague crowns in his seven seasons with the club. The big man did a little bit of everything to finish with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 3 blocks. Hines became just the ninth player in EuroLeague history to reach those numbers.
While Hines got the visitors going with a three-point play for the game’s first points – and in doing so tied Igor Rakocevic for 14th place in EuroLeague history with his 559th free throw made – Punter was responsible for most of the offensive highlights. He gave Milan its first double-digit lead, 6-17. After the lead peaked at 20, CSKA rallied in the second quarter and closed to within 5. Punter came to Milan’s rescue and scored the game’s next 8 points to secure a 34-47 halftime lead.
Hines had a major role in deflating CSKA’s would-be scorers with his stunning blocks, including one on a Johannes Voigtmann fastbreak layup late in the second quarter and another on an attempted slam by Joel Bolomboy early in the third. Hines tied a season-high with 3 blocks. He also tied a season-high with 5 assists, giving Milan a lift wherever one was needed.
Milan had many other key contributors to the win, including Shavon Shields (14 points), Zach LeDay (12 points) and another former EuroLeague champ with CSKA, Sergio Rodriguez (7 points, 6 assists). But more than anything else, it was Punter’s incessant scoring and Hines’s all-around contributions on both ends that set the tone and sent Milan into second place in the standings with a 19-10 record. The team it overtook? That was CSKA (18-10).