CSKA Moscow seems to be hitting its stride. The powerhouse that has reached the last nine Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Fours, and 17 of the last 18, dominated Zalgiris Kaunas 51-73 at Zalgirio Arena on Friday.
Quickly forgetting its rare three-game losing streak bridging October and November, CSKA has now won four straight games, including back-to-back blowouts of 20 points or more, to lift its record to 9-5.
“It is obvious that we won that game from our defensive effort,” head coach Dimitris Itoudis asserted afterwards.
And rightfully so. CSKA entered the clash allowing 80.2 points per game but then held Zalgiris to a club-record low on its home floor Zalgiris had never scored fewer points in a home game than it did on Friday night.
Even without shining offensively, CSKA also won comfortably because it had an abundance of ways to find solutions on offense when needed now that its star-studded team was at full strength for the first time this season.
“Please, don’t jinx it,”Itoudis said when asked about it after the game. “For us, it is important to stay healthy to be able evaluate the potential we have.”
The game in Kaunas, with everyone seeming to find ways to contribute, gave the first glimpse of what can be.
Alexey Shved got to 17 points with ease, which is right at his average of 17.3 points for his EuroLeague career against Zalgiris, which now includes 10 victories out of 12 games. Nikola Milutinov paced the team with a dominant double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds, with half of those boards coming on the offensive glass. And, back to defense, Daniel Hackett had a career-high 6 steals.
“Nikola [Milutinov] is back and really gives a different dimension to what we can do,” Itoudis explained. “Toko [Shengelia] is coming from an injury. [Marius] Grigonis is coming back from the injury, he is in a process of coming back, and being a creator, a good defender, and another great addition to our club. [Daniel] Hackett had surgery over the summer. Joel [Bolomboy] was out long time.”
Two guys who missed last week’s game, Shengelia and Johannes Voigtmann, had off nights in Kaunas, but they have proven already to be able to lead the team on their own. Shengelia has already earned two MVP of the Round honors this season, while Voigtmann averaged 11.3 points going into this game as the spark the team needed in recent weeks.
All-EuroLeague forward Will Clyburn did not have a good shooting night in Kaunas, scoring just 9 points and bringing his team-high average down to 15.5, but he is this team’s go-to guy. Meanwhile, Nikita Kurbanov, Iffe Lundberg and Grigonis all found ways to contribute.
Itoudis believes that even though everything has yet to fall into place, the foundation for it, has been laid.
“Those players need to make certain adjustments, but the chemistry is there,” Itoudis pointed out. “We build a lot on our chemistry, and this team breathes healthy. That is very important. Healthy in the locker room, healthy in practices. We understand that we have a lot of potential. Now, it’s about having them all together, to evaluate where this potential can meet the expectations we have.
“We hope we are going to stay healthy, in body and mind, and that we are going to stay on a high level.”
With so much room to improve while sitting with the third-best record after 14 rounds, CSKA might just be exactly where it wants.