The biggest stories from the 2019 playoff quarterfinals.
Plaza coaching clinic helps Zenit advance
Over the course of the season, St. Petersburg has been extremely streaky. After a disappointing start and coaching change, Zenit went on a tear, before hitting another rough patch late in the year. One of the team’s biggest wins, however, came in the final game of the regular season as Joan Plaza’s men took down Astana and avoided a first-round match-up with UNICS in the process.
Zenit had Plaza’s imprints all over it in the first round of the playoffs, beginning with an unusual rotation. Instead of increasing minutes for his stars, Plaza left Jalen Reynolds out of the starting lineup in Game 1. Ultimately, the center played the second-fewest minutes on the team in the game. Another star, Sergey Karasev, played the fewest. None of Zenit’s players, meanwhile, played more than 27 minutes and no one scored more than 12 points, but St. Petersburg was still able to defeat Lokomotiv on the road. The same Lokomotiv, which had dealt Zenit 16 and 32-point losses earlier in the year.
Each game in the series had its own story line. Kuban was able to impose a slower, more physically bruising style of play in Game 2 to take a 70-69 win. After returning to St. Petersburg for Game 3, however, Zenit bombarded Lokomotiv with 3-pointers (12-27), while Reynolds added 23 points and 14 rebounds in the paint.
The final game in the series is best narrated by the stats: 27 lead changes, 13 ties. Once again, Zenit was better down the stretch as Joan Plaza found the right combination in the final minutes: Evgeny Voronov and Marko Simonovic hit 3-pointers and Reynolds scored two clutch points.
Zenit enjoys a repeat of last season, wiping away a disappointing regular season with a victory in the quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal showdown with CSKA.
Coach of the Year can’t find an answer for Shved and Mickey
Khimki entered the playoffs on a roll. The Yellow and Blue won eight of nine down the stretch and nearly stole second place from UNICS. Moscow Region faced Astana in the quarterfinals, a team that enjoyed its best season in the League and hoped to make some noise in the playoffs.
In the very first game, however, Khimki made it clear it would not be taking the quarterfinals lightly. Alexey Shved poured in 27 points and his team won by 23. Khimki’s margin of victory in Game 2, 94-64, was also decisive. Astana, which played much better at home all season, led by as much as 14 in Game 3, but saw its lead slip away and with it the season.
Khimki was led by Alexey Shved and Jordan Mickey. The Russian guard finished second in scoring in the quarterfinals, averaging 22 points per game vs. Astana. His American teammate, meanwhile, was unbelievably efficient, missing only two shots in the entire series: 21-23, 91.3%. Mickey averaged 16 points per game in the sweep.
The Kazakhs got better each game, but Emil Rajkovic, who was named Coach of the Year, never figured out how to stop Moscow Region’s stars. Now it’s UNICS boss Dimitris Priftis’ turn. Khimki and Kazan square off next in the semifinals.
CSKA eliminates Nizhny Novgorod
The Army Men won the regular season and got matched up with Zoran Lukic’s Nizhny Novgorod in the first round. The Volga club was snake-bit all season by injuries and entered the postseason in far from ideal condition.
The series, not surprisingly, belonged to CSKA. Moscow cruised to an 87-50 victory in Game 1, then took down Nizhny 86-66 in Game 2. The reigning champs did have some trouble in Game 3. Nizhny trailed most of the game before a 14-0 run pulled the underdogs to within five points. Playing without Sergio Rodriguez, who exited early in the game with an injury, CSKA’s offense proved less effective down the stretch. Will Clyburn ultimately had to take over, scoring eight of his team’s final 10 points.
After the win, CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis gave his opponent credit, calling Nizhny Novgorod a “young team that’s very hard to play against.” Nizhny Novgorod once again failed to win a single game against the Army Men in the playoffs, though it should also be pointed out that CSKA has been perfect in the quarterfinals since 2014.
Errick McCollum activates playoff mode
UNICS could have finished the regular season in first place, but a loss to PARMA dropped Kazan into second. The loss, however, proved a timely wake-up call as the Tatars were careful not to underestimate the Estonians. Kalev, which was making its first playoff appearance, had few answers for UNICS. Tallinn kept it relatively close in Game 1 (92-82), before getting blown out in Game 2 (108-84). Game 3, played at home in front of a full house, was more competitive, but the Estonians were once again let down by defense (96-84).
Kalev was able to push the tempo throughout the series. But even without its starting point guard, Pierria Henry, UNICS had no issue keeping pace with the Estonians, averaging 98.7 points per game in the series (compared to 84.2 in the regular season).
Errick McCollum was one of the biggest stars in the series. The American guard knocked down 11 of 14 3-pointers, averaging a quarterfinals-best 23 points per game. “Playoff mode activated,” tweeted out McCollum after dropping 29 points on Kalev in Game 1.
Playoff mode activated 😏 https://t.co/QsLvlggYFO
— Errick McCollum (@ErrickM3) May 3, 2019
At the same time, UNICS gave up 83.3 points to Kalev, almost 10 more points than its regular-season average (74.8). Kazan will need to be more focused on defense vs. Khimki in the semifinals.
Zenit knocked Lokomotiv out of the playoffs, thanks to Marko Simonovic (10.8 points, 40.3% from beyond the arc) and Jalen Reynolds (13.3 points, 59% from the field).
CSKA took care of business vs. Nizhny Novgorod in three games, while Will Clyburn averaged a 22.5 efficiency rating, second-best in the quarterfinals, to go with 18 points per game.
Errick McCollum finished with a quarterfinals-best 23 points per game, helping UNICS take down Kalev.
Jordan Mickey barely missed a shot, hitting more than 90% of his attempts vs. Astana. Khimki, of course, swept the series in three games.
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Символическая пятерка 1-го раунда плей-офф | All-VTB League Team of the #VTBPlayoffs Round 1:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⭐ @thrill_21⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⭐ @errickm3⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⭐ @simke_12⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⭐ @jmick_55⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⭐ @jalen6_10reynolds⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Кто был лучшим игроком в четвертьфинальных сериях? | Who was the best player of the quarterfinals?
Here’s what’s in store for the semifinals: CSKA vs. Zenit and UNICS vs. Khimki. Games 1 will be played on May 22 and 23 in Kazan and Moscow, respectively. The series are best-of-five.
🏁 Вы готовы к полуфиналам? Are you ready to #VTBPlayoffs Semi-Finals?
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) May 11, 2019