St. Petersburg vs. Saratov, Sergey Karasev vs. Coty Clarke, Vasily Karasev vs. Evgeny Pashutin.
When & Where
Game 1: Thursday, May 24 at 7:00 PM (7:00 MSK) – Yubileyny Sports Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
Game 2: Sunday, May 27 at 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK) – Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
Game 3: Tuesday, May 29 at 6:00 PM (7:00 MSK) – Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
Game 4: Friday, June 1 (if necessary) – Yubileyny Sports Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
Game 5: Sunday, June 3 (if necessary) – Yubileyny Sports Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
Zenit: 4th place (16-8)
Avtodor: 5th place (14-10)
Face to Face
Round 1: Avtodor – Zenit, 92-107
Round 2: Zenit – Avtodor, 79-93
Reynolds – Voronov – Vikhrov – Harper – Griffin – Kuric
Frazier – Robinson – McKissic – Zibirov
Zenit’s very traditional backcourt has a player for every situation: pass-first Reynolds, who’s fine putting up zero points and 10 assists; all-around veteran Evgeny Voronov; layup wizard Demonte Harper; and one of the League’s most dangerous snipers in Kyle Kuric.
In comparison, Avtodor takes an untraditional tack: The team has few sharply defined roles and lots of wing players (McKissic, for instance, can slide between the guard and forward positions). In the April meeting between these teams, Saratov used only one pure guard in the starting lineup–the explosive Justin Robinson–and Zenit had no answer.
Karasev – Barinov – Simonovic – Valiev – Gordon – Whittington – Lazarev
Clarke – Downs – Hummer – Sheleketo – Zabelin – Klimenko
Both teams have loaded frontcourts with plenty of options. Avtodor traditionally specializes in big men, but Zenit can match them. Both teams have two tanks in the paint, who can also run the break (Whittington/Gordon vs. Klimenko/Zabelin) to go with superstars in Karasev and Clarke. The clash in playing styles will take center stage: Karasev’s more traditional system vs. Saratov’s experimental, freewheeling approach. Zenit does have an edge in depth, giving the starters more chances to rest.
At one time, these two representatives of Russia’s golden era of basketball played together on the national team. Now they are among the top Russian coaches in the game. Vasily Karasev has spent almost his entire career with one club (if you count Zenit’s predecessor – Triumph), while his counterpart has moved around the League, including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Krasnodar and Kazan. Pashutin took over Avtodor a month into the season, replacing Andrea Mazzon, and led the team to a 12-2 record. Both coaches preach similar styles: up-tempo basketball with lots of pressure in the paint and an emphasis on offense. But defense is always more important in the postseason, which could be a struggle for both clubs, considering Zenit gives up 85.5 points per game and Avtodor allows a whopping 87.7.
The match-up between these two stars should be the highlight of the series, especially given their versatility. Karasev is a classic point-forward in St. Petersburg, capable of scoring, feeding an open teammate or even running the offense. Karasev averages 2.7 assists per game, 3rd on the team behind Griffin and Reynolds. Of course, he’s known most for his scoring and is capable of lighting up any defense. Karasev has also shown a penchant for showing up in big games, dropping 23 points on CSKA, 31 on Khimki and 22 on Avtodor this season.
As for Avtodor, Coty Clarke is an electric, never-ending source of energy. He switched on the “god mode” prior to the Playoffs, showing his tremendous ability as a two-way player. On offense, he averages 20.4 points per game, while at the other end he’s a contender for Defensive Player of the Year and the glue on his team’s defense. He can defend all five positions, run the fast break and get back on defense before anyone else. Karasev and Clarke both won MVP of the Month awards this season, and the showdown is unlikely to disappoint.
vs. Justin Robinson
Kyle Kuric also deserves a mention, making the St. Petersburg fans quickly forget Ryan Toolson. But it’s hard to call someone who’s the possible team MVP an “X-factor.” We’ve already discussed Avtodor’s frontcourt dominance, but Zenit big man Drew Gordon hopes to steal their thunder in this series. Saratov couldn’t contain Gordon in the first meeting of the season, giving up 20 points to him in a defeat. The second meeting was a different story as Avtodor cruised to victory with Gordon playing only seven minutes (Loko would pay in his next appearance, as Gordon hit a game-winner with only 0.3 seconds on the clock).
Justin Robinson has been one of the biggest surprise of the season after joining Avtodor in the summer. The diminutive guard leads the team in minutes (32.0 per game) and is 2nd in the League in assists (7.0 per game). But that’s not the only element of his game as teams like Enisey and VEF have experienced. Robinson put up 30 points earlier this year, using his size to blow past slower defenders–don’t be surprised if Gordon ends up needing to stop Robinson from wreaking havoc on St. Petersburg’s defense.
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
– We understand perfectly well how important the first home game is: We need to play our best and win at any cost. We can’t even entertain the idea of saving our best for the end of the series, because the series may not go four or five games. From the opening minutes of the game, we need to be at 100%. We’re going to try to play up-tempo basketball, but it’s even more important to play smart vs. Saratov. Avtodor has good leaders, for example, Coty Clarke. The team is balanced. They may not have a deep bench, but the team that wants it more is going to win this match-up.
Avtodor head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
– Karasev and Kuric are Zenit’s leaders. while guards Reynolds and Harper are also very dangerous. We need to be very attentive to the home team’s snipers on the perimeter. Gordon dominates in the frontcourt. We have to contain him in the post and not allow him to score under the back, plus control the rebounding. Given Zenit often emphasizes offense on the perimeter, there are a lot of loose rebounds, which is why everyone on the court needs to battle hard and maintain focus on rebounding. It’s important to sustain a high tempo for 40 minutes and use our signature transition. When we aren’t able to score easy points in transition, we’ll actively move the ball and search for our opponent’s weaknesses. All 12 players should be ready to go, play with discipline and play as a team. I understand the responsibility that is on our shoulders in the Playoffs. We have a good chance to show what we can do and compete for a spot in the Final Four. We’ll try to take care of our own business and compete to the very end in every series.