The 13,500-seat Megasport was packed to capacity for the game on the CSKA Centennial. The VIP buffet was as full of basketball and sports journalism legends as Milan was of models in February.
Before the teams took the court, Basta sang “Mama, We’re All CSKA. To my rock ‘n’ roll soul, the melody and overall leitmotif somewhat reminded me of “Man from Kemerovo.” Boris Borisich – but, however, I never claimed to be musically erudite.
What the Loko players really wanted was to ruin the Armed Forces’ holiday. Alexei Shved, Loko’s chief creator, did return to the court and a couple of creative plays, but both Dmitri Uzinsky and the Red and Blue’s other number 1 players did their job in the first half with an “A-minus. The home team’s other superstar, Serbian center Nikola Milutinov, couldn’t be stopped. The giant scored 11 points in the opening quarter and led his team by nearly twice the rebounding margin.
As in their series with Paris NN, Krasnodar shot well, whether from three-point or two-point range. DeVaughn Akun-Purcell was the key player in the first half, not only scoring 13 points, but also preventing Nikita Kurbanov from driving the ball over the midfield line once, as well as a terrific layup for wide-open Chris Horton. The latter had another couple of spectacular plays in the second quarter as he put the Red and Blue up against the basket on the offensive rebounding unit.
When Akun-Purcell picked up his third foul (Loko had 13 personal fouls in the first half compared to CSKA’s eight), Zakhar Vedischev successfully became the leader of the Krasnodar offense with 11 points by halftime. After the last of his shots – a Juan Carlos Navarro-like high parabolic through Milutinov – Loko head coach Aleksandr Sekulic received a technical. In spite of that, at the end of the twenty minutes the visitors weren’t just holding their own, but looked more interesting than the home team, 46-40. The fans in Krasnodar, who’d once again gone on the road with adventures, sang, clapped and cheered from the roar. After the break, Shved remembered he had some big passes in his offensive arsenal, and the CSKA deficit shrank. But Loko kept bending, but not breaking, facing pressure from their bigger and more experienced opponents and a full house. They defended their lead, albeit at the cost of only one or two shots, with selflessness and efficiency. Uzinsky played great as a captain, scoring for all tastes, Alexander Scherbenyev shot from beyond the arc, and Anton Kvitkovskikh converted his own offensive rebound into two points – 63:56 in the 30th minute!
Vladislav Emchenko opened the final quarter with a great steal and an equally great breakaway pass to Horton’s great overhead shot. “+9!” I’ll write it again, more clearly – plus nine on the road against nearly undefeated CSKA this season on the day of the Army club’s centennial celebration! With nine minutes to go…
Nine minutes in basketball, however, is a lifetime. Just then Andrey Martyuk left the floor for 5 fouls and the Loko bench got the second technical.
But – clever Kvitkovskikh converted a block shot by the Army team in the last second of the possession! 71-61 with 6.5 minutes to go…
Kasper Weir, who had more turnovers in less than a year for CSKA than most players in his entire career, scored 5 points in a row and hit a gorgeous layup for Milutinov. Right after, Ware got two straight fouls from Barford: one on offense and one on a three-pointer. That made it 73-71 in favor of Loko after a solo layup by the Muscovites. A wave of applause rippled through the seats of the Megasport…
Just then the officials again caught another foul by Barford on Ware’s three-pointer. 74-74 with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Okaro White, who wasn’t too good on his shots that night, got under Dejan Davidovac’s block shot. Uzinski, however, coolly continued to pull Loko to victory. He converted free throws, grabbed two offensive rebounds in a row – and Barford thanked his captain with two accurate three-pointers, “+6” with 2.5 minutes to go!
Shwed didn’t miss from beyond the arc. Milutinov missed from the free-throw line. All in all, 82-81 in favor of Loko and another 114 seconds of great basketball.
…After a play that took forever, the officials gave possession to the Army team. Ware finally missed the shot, but Milutinov was first on the board and hit his first shot of the second half to give the home team an 83-82 lead. With less than half a minute left, however, Acun Purcell earned a foul and gave Loko the lead back, 84-83.
Alas, the same Ware scored on a layup. With a foul. He didn’t commit a foul, but … Barford’s potentially game-winning shot didn’t go in. The visitors still had a chance to go into overtime – at -3, they had a timeout and 1.8 seconds to make the shot. CSKA won the game, however.
Loko played one of its best games of the season, but fell just short of victory. The day after tomorrow, on April 17 at 8 p.m., also in Moscow, is the second game of the series.