Expectations were high for the only quarterfinal match-up featuring two Big Five teams: Loko vs. Khimki. Many thought a five-game series was in the works. But despite competitive, entertaining games, the series ended in a sweep. Why? Khimki’s Alexey Shved.
Since September, Shved has enjoyed a remarkable run of success, winning EuroBasket, EuroLeague and VTB League scoring titles in quick succession. Not surprisingly, he was also the top scorer in the quarterfinals, averaging 28.3 points per game, way ahead of his closest competitor (Stevan Jelovac, 22.7 ppg).
Shved warmed up in Game 1 with 20 points and six assists, though he also missed a lot of shots and needed help from teammates.
Games 2 and 3 were a different story. Shved nearly broke his personal scoring record in the League (34), single-handedly lifting the Yellow and Blue to a series sweep with lines of 32+7 and 33+10. Loko had no answer.
Shved leads Khimki into the Final Four, despite playing without Stefan Markovic and Thomas Robinson. The Russian superstar was unstoppable.
Seasoned St. Petersburg schools Avtodor
Avtodor finished 2nd in the League in scoring (87.8 points per game) behind only CSKA. Throughout the season, the squad displayed attacking basketball, posted a winning record and took down some of the League’s top teams in the process, including a 14-point win in St. Petersburg in April. But Avtodor only scored more than 80 points once in the quarterfinals, a 91-80 defeat in Game 1.
Avtodor was expected to test Zenit in Games 2 and 3 as the series moved to Saratov. 17-year-old Nikita Mikhailovsky enjoyed a breakout game for the Volga club in Game 2, becoming the youngest player to start in the League playoffs. Teenagers Alexander Petenev and Anton Kvitkovskikh also saw the court.
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) 27 мая 2018 г.
But at this stage of the season, experience usually counts more than youth. Tested by five-game semifinal showdowns over the past two seasons, Zenit had plenty of tricks up its sleeve vs. Avtodor. On top of the defense, Zenit brought superior bench performances, outscoring Avtodor’s reserves in each game (43-24, 35-18, 61-25) to go with outstanding individual performances. Kyle Kuric set a League record in Game 3 for most points in the Playoffs by a bench player, dropping 31, while fellow sub Evgeny Voronov added 20.
St. Petersburg’s seasoned collective outplayed Avtodor in the quarterfinals, but may have helped the Volga club lay the foundation for deep postseason runs in the future.
Warm-up for CSKA
The regular season champs took on VEF, a team that squeaked into the playoffs courtesy of Tsmoki’s loss to Zenit in the season finale. The Army Men had to play without Andrey Vorontsevich and Leo Westermann and had recently wrapped up a disappointing performance in the EuroLeague Final Four, but the series with Riga helped Moscow regain its confidence ahead of the VTB League Final Four.
Moscow set a new Playoff record in Game 1, scoring 112 points. CSKA averaged 102 per game over the course of the series, falling just shy of the century mark in Game 3 (99). That’s all you need to know. The match-up with VEF proved a nice chance to bounce back from EuroLeague disappointment and prepare for yet another Final Four.
Intrigue on the Volga
UNICS was tested in both regular season meetings with Nizhny Novgorod, but no one thought this would end up being the most competitive series in the quarterfinals, especially not after Game 1, when Kazan completely dominated in an 84-66 win.
But the 1-2-2 format ended up working beautifully in this series. Games 2 and 3 in Nizhny were the highlight of the quarterfinals. In Game 2, Stevan Jelovac helped Nizhny Novgorod become the second team in the League to defeat UNICS this season.
Game 3 was an instant classic–one of the best games of the season in the VTB United League, and around the basketball globe. It had everything you could want and more as Melvin Ejim knocked down a buzzer-beater in overtime, giving Kazan the win and a 2-1 series lead.
Zoran Lukic did a magnificent job with his underdog squad, making up for lack of talent with discipline and toughness. But UNICS didn’t need any heroics in Game 4. Ejim’s Game 3 dagger crushed even the stoic Black and White warriors.
Nizhny earned respect with its postseason performance and can look to the future with optimism, meanwhile the White and Green become the final team to reach the Final Four.
The quarterfinals produced this season’s top four teams, set to battle for the Belov Cup next week in Moscow.
These are the semifinal match-ups:
CSKA vs. Zenit
UNICS vs. Khimki
The Final Four will be held at the VTB Ice Palace in Moscow on June 8 and 10.
Summer, hoops, Final Four. Zenit, UNICS, Khimki, CSKA. One week to go.
Check out Final Four Schedule 🏆
4:00 PM 3rd-Place Game
7:00 PM Championship Game pic.twitter.com/A9WtLzOZ4z
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) June 1, 2018