A six-foot line snaked like a movie anaconda in the Megasport lobby, as if the capital’s female Instagrammers had been lined up since the morning for their 15th iPhone on the day of the sale. It turned out that these were people who wanted to be photographed with the Gagarin Cup. By the way, the CSKA hockey players came to cheer on Emil Rajkovic’s wards.
But the players from Krasnodar didn’t go without their teammates’ – or, more precisely, their teammates’ – support either. The girls from Lokomotiv Kaliningrad who are starting their final campaign for the third championship tomorrow are staying at the same hotel as Loko Basketball and the day before the game they sent the Red-Green volleyball team words of encouragement and kindness. Some of the Kaliningrad volleyball fans came to Megasport and cheered from the bottom of their hearts in the fan zone.
There was a lot to cheer for and for whom! Loko scored 25 points in the opening quarter, while hitting all 5 three-pointers! The Army team hit 14 free throws (compared to only 5 for the visitors), Alexei Shved had 5 assists in 8 minutes, and Nikola Milutinov quickly chipped in 6 points – but despite that, the visitors led from first to last in the period. Remarkably, Loko’s first 10 points were evenly distributed among the starting five.
The second quarter began – and after the Army team dropped first Andrei Martyuk and then Vladislav Emchenko, it was time for the first technical for the Loko bench. Shved shot from the free-throw line for the second time in the first minute to give CSKA a 31-30 lead. Moments later, Dallas Moore converted a three-pointer and forced Aleksandar Sekulic to take a layup. And it worked! Another Alexander, Scherbenyev, pushed a fastbreak layup and restored the balance. It was time for Rajkovic to grab hold of the timeout. That helped, too – shots from Dejan Davidovac and Ivan Ukhov allowed the home team to win the quarter by a scoreless stretch and pull ahead by the maximum 8 points in the game, 47-39.
Notably, Loko’s concentration was excellent – just 1 blown free throw from 13. But he managed to score from the field in brutal contact with Milutinov and the other big men in red uniforms two to three times.
In the first half, the visitors had just 1 made three-pointer in 7 games. Soon after the start, however, Barford and Martyuk reminded us that they can’t write off their red-and-green weapons.
Shved continued his scoring ways, while Kaycock fell to the ground at every hint of contact. It was a Rhodesian spike or a barley one. But the Loko players kept up their trademark run and gun, and after a fastbreak run by Acun Purcell, CSKA’s lead shrank to symbolic, 53-52.
The 24-second clock malfunctioned under the strain, and Red and Blue fans began blasting their fans during the break. The red and green sector, however, sang even louder and more celebratory, like at a demonstration. Yemchenko took advantage of the technical break and celebrated Labor Day with some energetic mop work. In Game 7 of the playoffs, nothing’s too small!
And immediately Martyuk ate Milutinov’s defense without any salt or pepper, and Anton Kvitkovskikh converted Loko’s fourth three-pointer of the quarter – 55-55!
CSKA had a flock of cranes making three-pointers as well. Milutinov and Ware continued to be a formidable, nearly insoluble mystery: 68-60 in favor of CSKA before the final quarter.
It started with an optimistic hit by Chris Horton. The potentially upbeat scenario, however, was immediately splashed with pessimism as Barford picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench in frustration. Almost immediately, Yemchenko earned a fourth foul as well – with the referees counting Moore’s shot. 73-64, CSKA’s largest lead with 7.5 minutes to go…
Cleverly Shcherbenyov scored a hard middle and then seconds later hit his free throws. Then he fired back with a great pass to Okaro White for a total of -3!
Loko’s defense prevented the Army team from shooting around the basket for 24 seconds. And Loko’s offense, likewise a collective effort, drew two straight layups, 76-75 in favor of the visitors.
With another offensive rebound, Horton had the Army fans screaming to Rajkovic: “Where’s Milutinov?” – “+2” for Loko. And then another technical followed for the visitors – this time for falling Akun-Purcell after contact with Keikok. The home team scored five straight points, 81-78 in their favor with 2.5 minutes to go.
Barfordeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! There’s an accurate three-pointer and it’s tied at the end!!! The American sharpshooter’s next long shot came past the arches, but White converted it into a 2-pointer!!! And he also scored on a pass with 52 seconds to go – 85:81!!!! Russian punctuation doesn’t allow for four exclamation points – but how can you resist!
Davidovac went to the line for a free throw – 2 points difference… White’s loss under pressure by CSKA – and the game was tied 28 seconds to go.
Barford was entrusted with deciding the game. As in the first game of the series, he tried to score on a hard contact with Ware, but missed. One of the toughest rivalries in league history didn’t make it to seven games – overtime.
The visitors weren’t going to complain about fate and otherworldly forces, but gathered the will in their heels – White opened the five-minute period with a three-pointer, while Emchenko continued with a steal and accurate free throws. But Barford lost the ball at a very bad time – and left the court for five fouls. Eh, how bad timing was with those fouls – given that Loko only had 5 of them until the final minute of regular time. And then Akun-Purcell picked up his 5th foul in a completely unnecessary situation.
The fate of the game fell into Loko’s hands. Shcherbenyov cold-bloodedly made free throws – 92-88.
Judges deliberated and thought about it and, without even looking at it, reclassified Horton’s foul on Milutinov as an unsportsmanlike offence. The Serbian giant converted only 1 of 2 attempts, but the officials also booked a foul on Shved, sending Emchenko to the bench for 5 fouls.
Shcherbenyov was the main character of the game! Accurate three-pointer, accurate free throws – “+5”! Anton Kvitkovskiy – our sweetest, most outstanding, and most efficient Anatoly – pulled down a rebound for both Milutinov and the entire CSKA team. True, he made only 1 free throw from 2 – 98-92.
And then… another fumble in the paint. Milutinov had his chance to get the ball in the basket – +4 for Loko. But Shcherbenyov found a rebound and made free throws – 100-94. Victory! The greatest win in Loko history over the last 10 years!