All the biggest stories from the semifinals.
“I’m not ashamed of my team”
In order to beat Zenit and reach the finals, the reigning champions only needed three games. But after a fairly comfortable win in Game 1 (98-82), CSKA was pushed to the limit in Games 2 (83-81) and 3 (69-68).
There is a good explanation for the 16-point loss in the series opener, however. One of Zenit’s best players–Jalen Reynolds–picked up two technicals and was ejected in the third quarter. St. Petersburg wasn’t able to re-calibrate without Reynolds in the lineup and CSKA center Othello Hunter took advantage, playing his best game in the League: 22 points and a 27 efficiency rating!
Jalen Reynolds quickly apologized for his ejection to everyone–the fans, his team, the refs, the League–but couldn’t escape a three-game suspension.
Apologies to the fans, my teammates, the refs and @VTBUL for losing my cool today. You all know what I bring to this game hopefully it continues…
— Jalen Reynolds (@JalenReynolds) May 23, 2019
At the post-game press conference, Zenit head coach Joan Plaza emphasized that the secret to his team’s success does not depend on one player.
The Spanish boss backed up the assertion. In the next two games, Zenit completely revamped its approach and dictated the tempo on the court. Joan Plaza’s men managed to slow down CSKA’s offense. Averaging 90.8 points per game entering the series, Moscow was limited to 83 in Game 2 and only 69 in Game 3. Nobody on CSKA’s roster reached 20 points in either of the final two games. Luckily for the CSKA fans, that was enough to secure a spot in the finals.
Despite a quick end to the semifinals, Joan Plaza praised Zenit and said he was proud of his men.
Defense in the final seconds decides the series
Twice, Zenit had a chance to extend the series to at least four games, but in the second and third games, the Army Men played perfect defense in the final seconds of regulation.
Gal Mekel drove to the basket, his team trailing by two in Game 2, but was blocked by Kyle Hines. With 0.8 remaining, Zenit failed to hit a shot.
The situation was repeated in Game 3 in St. Petersburg. With CSKA leading by a point, Cory Higgins missed two free throws and Zenit had a chance to win with 14.4 seconds on the clock. Sean Armand found Evgeny Valiev under the basket, but the forward was blocked by Will Clyburn as he went up for the game-winning layup.
Thanks to the series win over Zenit, CSKA has reached the finals for the 10th time. The Army Men are the only team in the League that has never missed the finals in 10 seasons.
Khimki cracks UNICS’s defense
UNICS entered the semifinals as the best defensive team in the League, giving up only 74.8 points per game in the regular season. Yes, Kalev averaged 83.3 points against Kazan in the quarterfinals, but the Tatar club put up 98.7 points per game in response.
But UNICS failed to demonstrate its signature defense against Khimki. Moscow Region scored at least 91 points in each game, including 103 in Game 2 (only the second time a team has scored 100+ points in the semifinals), averaging 94.3 for the series.
The secret to Khimki’s offense was incredible efficiency from beyond the arc. Rimas Kurtinaitis’ men led the League in three-point field goals during the regular season, but took it one step further in the semifinals, averaging 15-35 or 42.9% from downtown in the semifinals (after posting 10.3-28.1 in the regular season). By comparison, CSKA led the League in three-point field-goal percentage at 40.1% during the regular season. Khimki also took more shots from outside the arc than inside during the series (26.3 attempts per game).
Shved in MVP mode, Timma becomes Khimki’s second star
Alexey Shved was at the center of attention in the semifinals. The guard, who was named the regular season MVP prior to Game 3, played fantastic basketball vs. UNICS. After averaging a 19.5 efficiency rating in the regular season, Shved post a 24 average in the semifinals, the highest of any player in the semifinals.
Shved got going in Game 1, matching his personal best and playoff record of 36 points. UNICS, however, erased a 14-point deficit in that one, taking the series opener. Shved went on to score 25, 26 and 26 points in the remaining three games as Khimki won three in a row. He did more than score, too, averaging an impressive 8.3 assists during the series.
The semifinal series demonstrated that Janis Timma was one of Khimki’s best mid-season moves. The forward finished second on the team in efficiency rating in the semifinals (and third among all players), averaging 18 points on 66.7% shooting from downtown. The Latvian was not afraid to take over games and hit several big shots in Game 4 as Khimki was able to secure an exciting win over UNICS.
Khimki and CSKA meet in the Finals for the third-straight year. The series begins on June 5 in Moscow.
(1) CSKA – (3) Khimki
Game 1: June 5 in Moscow
Game 2: June 7 in Moscow
Game 3: June 10 in Khimki
Game 4*: June 12 in Khimki
Game 5*: June 15 in Moscow
* – if necessary