Moscow vs. Riga, De Colo vs. Perez, Itoudis vs. Gailitis.
When & Where
Game 1: Thursday, May 24 at 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK) – Olympic Center, Liepaja, Latvia
Game 2: Sunday, May 27 at 7:00 PM (7:00 MSK) – USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
Game 3: Tuesday, May 29 at 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK) – USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
Game 4: Friday, June 1 (if necessary) – Arena Riga, Riga, Latvia
Game 5: Sunday, June 3 (if necessary) – USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
CSKA: 1st place (22-2)
VEF: 8th place (8-16)
Face to Face
Round 1: CSKA – VEF, 94-69
Round 2: VEF – CSKA, 83-102
Rodriguez – Higgins – De Colo – Clyburn – Kulagin – Fridzon
Perez – Brown – Janicenoks – Ate – Misters
CSKA leads the League in scoring, with much of the credit going to the backcourt of De Colo, Higgins and Clyburn, who average more than 40 combined points per game, with Rodriguez chipping in five assists in limited action.
VEF, likewise, depends on talented guard play. Mexico product Alex Perez scored 20+ points three times in the final two months of the season, while averaging 6.1 dimes over the course of the campaign. Ken Brown joined Riga in January and was a big part of VEF’s surge in the second half of the season as the Latvians overcame a 1-10 start.
Antonov – Khryapa – Hines – Hunter – Kurbanov – Makiev
Mejeris – Gromovs – Berzins – Vecvagars – Cavars – Carter – Helmanis
If CSKA’s guards mostly answer for the offense, the frontcourt neutralizes any offense from the opposition under the basket. Nikita Kurbanov was named the League’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, Kyle Hines is a contender this season, and Victor Khryapa loves to crash highlight reels with his blocks.
Unlike CSKA’s foreign contingent in the frontcourt, VEF loaded up on domestic talent. Center Mareks Mejeris ranks in the top three in offensive rebounds (2.5 per game), while 24-year-old big man Ilja Gromovs is top three in blocks. Riga also added forward Paul Carter in February, who brings versatility and a nice inside-out game.
Dimitris Itoudis vs. Janis Gailitis
Itoudis is definitely one of the league’s top coaches. The Greek boss is in his 4th season in Moscow and has gone seven-for-seven thus far in regular season and postseason championships.
He’s faced by Janis Gailitis, an up-and-coming Latvian coach. Gailitis joined Riga during the 2015-16 season and has made significant changes during his tenure. After completely rebuilding the roster over the summer of 2016, he brought VEF to the postseason for the first time in four years, while helping the club regain the Latvian championship. Now Gailitis has secured another Top-8 finish, highlighted by a 77-73 win over Khimki.
Nando De Colo vs. Alex Perez
CSKA has plenty of stars, but De Colo is one of the biggest. Even though he’s coming off the bench this season, De Colo’s play is the reason the Army Men don’t panic in close games, with the Frenchman unafraid to step up and take big shots. He struggled a bit at the beginning of the season, but picked up steam throughout the campaign. Can he regain peak form after an unpleasant April injury?
Alex Perez leads the way in Riga. The Mexican guard runs VEF’s offense and plays with such passion, he’s impossible to dislike. He buried Nizhny Novgorod (27 points and six assists), and nearly recorded a triple-double vs. PARMA (21 points, nine rebounds, seven assists). Perez leads VEF in scoring (13.6) and assists (6.1), making him a headache for any League defense.
CSKA: Three-point field-goal percentage
On top of boasting the League’s top offense, the Army Men shoot the highest percentage in the League from beyond the arc (40.9%). If CSKA’s snipers have enough space to shoot, Riga’s chances of an upset will be virtually zero.
The Latvians share 1st place in the League in rebounds with Lokomotiv, averaging 36.5 per game. Riga is also the League’s top offensive rebounding team and will likely try to exploit this facet of the game vs. CSKA. Riga has to win the rebounding battle, especially with Andrey Vorontsevich likely out for the season and Kyle Hines recently returning from injury.