There were surprises galore as the League returned to action over the weekend.
Lokomotiv stops CSKA
It was hard to keep up with everything happening over the weekend. League president Sergey Kushchenko even called it one of the best in League history. And if Saturday and Sunday’s games are any indication, we could be in for a wild ride in 2018.
The highlight had to be the meeting between the League’s top two teams: CSKA and Lokomotiv. It had been 13 months since the Railwaymen had defeated CSKA, an 83-74 victory in Krasnodar on December 4, 2016. Coincidentally, CSKA’s leading scorer in that game was back-up guard Dmitry Kulagin.
On Sunday, Kulagin once again led his team in scoring, but this time wearing a Loko jersey, as the visitors lived up to their reputation as CSKA’s most dangerous opponent.
For CSKA, Sunday’s game was a rude awakening. Not only did the home team suffer its first loss of the season, the Army Men never led in the contest for the first time in League history. CSKA also lost its first home game since February 2016. With Lokomotiv improving to 9-1, Moscow’s 1st-place lead shrinks to half a game.
Shock therapy in Tallinn
We didn’t need to wait long for the first big upset of 2018. Kalev scored a club record 57 points in the first half vs. Khimki to amass a 19-point lead. The visitors tried to get back into the game after halftime, but 30 points from Alexey Shved and a 27-19 edge in the final quarter were not enough. Kalev secures an historic first win over Khimki, snapping a 12-game losing streak that dated back to 2010.
3-point contest in Kazan
The second-ever League All-Star Game is getting closer and closer. UNICS and Enisey warmed up for the 3-Point Contest on Saturday, combining to shoot 20-40 from long range, knocking down 10 apiece.
Given its success from beyond the arc, Enisey’s 14-25 showing at the line was especially glaring. UNICS took full advantage, cruising to a 91-76 win to remain in the top three.
Nizhny Novgorod on the rise?
Nizhny Novgorod had lost three in a row entering 2018, the most recent defeat coming at home to PARMA. Prior to the road game in Astana, Zoran Lukic insisted that his team would not quit. But Astana was in similar straits, also desperately in need of a win to stay relevant in the playoff chase.
Until midway through the 3rd quarter, Nizhny Novgorod was mostly treading water. But with four minutes to go, Jake Odum tied the game with a pair of free throws, then drilled a couple 3’s, laying the foundation for an 18-0 Nizhny run to end the period. The visitors were able to hold on in the 4th quarter, picking up their first road win of the season, while moving into 8th place in the standings.
Avtodor’s pint-sized killer returns
Last week, Isaiah Thomas made his long-awaited season debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Across the ocean, his clone in the VTB United League, Avtodor’s Justin Robinson, turned heads with a fantastic performance in a win over VEF.
Robinson saved most of his offense for the 3rd quarter, when he looked like a carbon copy of “The Killa” from Cleveland, scoring 17 of his team’s 27 points in the period. Avtodor used the outburst to take a seven-point lead into the 4th quarter where it held on for a valuable road win.
Shaq McKissic also enjoyed a memorable debut for Saratov, throwing down several vicious dunks.
Suspense in Minsk as Zenit escapes the dragon’s lair
“I think luck was simply on our side today.”
Vasily Karasev gave the most accurate description of Zenit’s adventures in the Belarusian capital on Sunday. St. Petersburg led by 10 or more points four times, but each time Tsmoki found a way to claw back into the game.
The game ended in thrilling fashion. With only a few seconds left on the clock, Sergey Karasev knocked down one of two free throws to give Zenit a one-point lead, 82-81. Needing a bucket on the final possession, Tsmoki was undone by a turnover, allowing the visitors to escape with the win.