Kazan vs. Nizhny Novgorod, Stephane Lasme vs. Stevan Jelovac, Dimitris Priftis vs. Zoran Lukic.
Where and When
Game 1. Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia. 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK), May 23
Game 2. Nizhny Novgorod Trade Union Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. 7:15 PM (7:15 MSK), May 26
Game 3. Nizhny Novgorod Trade Union Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK), May 28
Game 4. Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia. May 31 (if necessary)
Game 5. Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia. June 2 (if necessary)
UNICS: 2nd place (22-2)
Nizhny Novgorod: 7th place (10-14)
Face to Face
Round 1: Nizhny Novgorod – UNICS, 89-91
Round 2: UNICS – Nizhny Novgorod, 99-93
Ponkrashov – Colom – Smith – Sergeev – Andjusic – Kolesnikov
Martynov – Grigoryev – Komolov – Zhbanov – Strebkov – Odum
Kazan’s backcourt has more starpower at first glance. The connection between the dynamic point guard Colom and sharpshooter Smith have led to success on numerous occasions this season. The support from a trio of experienced Russians (Ponkrashov, Kolesnikov, Sergeev) also cannot be discounted. Each of these three (especially the first two) can take over any given game and provide Dimitris Priftis with several dangerous weapons off the bench.
Zoran Lukic’s roster is also blessed with dynamic guard play. Strebkov, Odum and Komolov are not afraid of driving the lane or shooting from beyond the arc. Consistency is their biggest problem. Maxim Grigoryev will likely be the X-factor for the Volga club. The guard needed a long time to recover from multiple injuries, but he’s begun to show flashes of potential in recent games. Grigoryev averaged three 3-pointers per game over the final three games of the season, shooting 52.9% from distance (9 of 17).
Ejim – Ndour – Lasme – Trushkin – Lockett – Koshcheev
Veremeenko – Jelovac – Uzinsky – Gubanov – Popov – Panin – Toporov
The big man duel in this series will have a decisive effect. Kazan is rightfully considered one of the best defensive teams in the League, thanks largely to its frontcourt, which shuts down every approach to the paint. On offense, meanwhile, the UNICS big men boast an array of weapons. Every player in the rotation can battle in the paint and knock down triples.
Nizhny has a bona fide star on its roster. Stevan Jelovac has been one of the biggest revelations of the season, finishing 4th in scoring (20.2 points per game), 5th in rebounds (6.8) and 2nd in efficiency rating (19.3). Experienced veterans Veremeenko and Gubanov will provide support in the Playoffs. The Belarusian big man brings raw power, while the Russian forward can play both under the basket and on the perimeter (45.5% three-point shooting). Plus, don’t forget about Nizhny’s flanks, featuring the veteran Panin and explosive Uzinsky.
Dimitris Priftis has a good thing going in Kazan, once again building a competitive roster despite a relative lack of starpower. This UNICS squad is excellent evidence in his favor. Kazan didn’t draw much attention in the summer with its free-agent signings, but a lack of “stars” did not prevent the Greens from defeating everyone in the League except for CSKA.
Zoran Lukic has been equally impressive with his approach. On paper, Nizhny had less talent than its fellow playoff rivals. Nonetheless, Nizhny Novgorod clawed its way into the postseason, with Lukic’s skill playing a significant role in the late-season turnaroud.
These are two of the League’s biggest surprises. Smith fits like a charm in Dimitris Priftis’ system. The American came in with a reputation as a sniper, but he’s gone to the next level at UNICS. Smith is unbelievably versatile, capable of hurting you on the dribble, off the dribble, running off screens and even fighting his way through double-teams at times. It’s not surprising he was named League MVP in March.
Stevan Jelovac also has an MVP award, which he received in May. The match-up between the Serb and Kazan’s defense will be one of the keys to this series. The forward can work miracles, as we saw in Nizhny’s trip to Tallinn earlier in the year. Jelovac set a new League scoring record (49 points in a single game) vs. Kalev, On the other hand, the Serb has not been very successful vs. Kazan, averaging 21 points per game on 28.6% shooting (5 of 17.5 shot attempts).
Three-pointers could play a big role in the series, specifically the Volga club’s aerial assault. UNICS’s interior defense is rightfully considered the best in the VTB League. Nizhny Novgorod, meanwhile, only has one traditional center who likes to bang in the paint (Veremeenko), and plenty of snipers. That’s why it’s entirely feasible Lukic will depend on three-point shooting. The meeting between these teams in April indirectly supports this thesis. The Black-Whites took more 3-pointers than normally (40 vs. 34), but were doomed by low-percentage shooting (11 of 40, 27.5%). Everything could change in the postseason, however.