Finals: CSKA (1) vs. Khimki (3)

Finals: CSKA (1) vs. Khimki (3)

Alexey Shved vs. CSKA’s defense, Will Clyburn vs. Janis Timma, Dimitris Itoudis vs. Rimas Kurtinaitis.

When and where
Game 1. USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia. 7:30 PM MSK, June 5
Game 2. USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia. 7:30 PM MSK, June 7
Game 3. BCMO, Khimki, Russia. 7:30 PM MSK, June 10
Game 4*. BCMO, Khimki, Russia. 1:30 PM MSK, June 12
Game 5*. USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia. 5:30 PM MSK, June 15

* – if necessary

Regular season
CSKA: 1st place (22-4)
Khimki: 3rd place (20-6)

Three burning questions
Will Khimki have the motivation and toughness to seriously challenge CSKA?
CSKA vs. Khimki has been Russian basketball’s best rivalry in recent decades. At the same time, the Army Men have been thoroughly dominant, winning 22 of 29 VTB United League match-ups and nine of the last 10. CSKA’s dominance is even more complete in the postseason: 14-2 vs. Khimki. Thanks to strong regular-season campaigns, the Red and Blue typically have an easier path to the Finals.

Matched up with their biggest rival after bruising battles with other contenders, Khimki always asserts that it’s not satisfied and will do everything it can to steal the title from the Army Men. But only on postseason series has proved competitive, and that was way back in 2013, when these two teams went five games in the semifinals. Each of the three previous series have belonged 100% to CSKA, ending in 3-0 sweeps.  

The win over UNICS in the semifinals gave Khimki a EuroLeague ticket, which means the team has already met its baseline goal for the season. Can Moscow Region reboot for the Finals in time and slay their CSKA demons? 

Can Khimki stop Will Clyburn without Janis Timma?
Will Clyburn entered the final stage of the season in the best shape of the season. The forward helped CSKA win the Final Four in Vitoria, where he was named the MVP, then played extremely well in the series with Zenit. The American averaged 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in two games in Moscow. His numbers were more modest in Game 3–6 points, seven rebounds and two assists–but he had the game-saving block in the final seconds, stopping Evgeny Valiev to preserve a one-point lead. He is capable of impacting the game even when he’s overshadowed by his teammates and doesn’t score a ton of points. 

Layups and back-to-the-basket post play, not to mention a recent surge in three-point shooting (3-4 and 4-6 at the EuroLeague Final Four, then 2-5 in each of the first two games vs. Zenit)–Clyburn is a universal weapon for CSKA and a big problem for opposing defenses.

Khimki also had a dangerous weapon at the forward position. Janis Timma joined Khimki mid-season and made the team significantly better. He didn’t play in the first two games against CSKA in the regular season and presented a bit of a mystery for the EuroLeague champions. Timma quickly became a leader in Moscow Region, taking some of the burden from Alexey Shved (he bailed out the Russian star in Game 4 vs. UNICS, scoring 24 points and hitting big shots down the stretch). The forward, however, broke a toe in the semifinals and won’t play in the Finals, a huge loss for the Yellow and Blue. 

As a result, Sergey Monia and Tony Crocker will shoulder a much bigger load, both of whom were role players for most of the season. The Russian has vast experience in the League and the American will get a chance to prove himself after an up-and-down season and perhaps keep his spot on the roster for next season. 

How will Alexey Shved handle CSKA’s defense?
Khimki’s fortunes always depend in large part on Shved’s performance. The regular season MVP delivered in the semifinals vs. UNICS, averaging 28 points per game. 

Khimki’s 73-72 win over CSKA in March, the team’s first in years, was only possible because of Shved’s 37 points (a personal best in the League) and 11 assists. But the Army Men have always been able to stop Shved in the postseason, whether in a single game or over the course of a series. CSKA doesn’t try to shut down Europe’s most dangerous scorer completely. But Itoudis tries to make life as difficult as possible for him. Shved is always covered by a string of constantly-shifting defensive specialists (Daniel Hackett, Cory Higgins, Clyburn and Nikita Kurbanov) and frequently double-teamed. His efficiency, not surprisingly, drops as he tries to break the CSKA system on his own with his teammates often left as spectators. Most of the time, it’s a losing cause. 

For CSKA, most of the threat also comes from the backcourt. Stars Sergio Rodriguez and Nando De Colo haven’t dazzled yet in the postseason, which is partially explained by the Army Men’s dominance in the series vs. Nizhny Novgorod and Zenit: CSKA’s depth was enough. The Red and Blues, though, need Rodriguez and De Colo to be at their best in the finals. The Spaniard and Frenchman will have a chance to show what they can do, especially since Khimki lacks the personnel to stop them. 

The frontcourt battle
The teams’ biggest strengths are on the perimeter. But the big man battle also presents plenty of intrigue. CSKA’s American trio of Kyle Hines, Othello Hunter and Joel Bolomboy are the definition of reliability and power. The big men mostly did the dirty work against Zenit, neutralizing their opposite numbers, but they also capitalized when they had chances. The trio combined for 28 field goal attempts and connected on 23 for 82%. 

Khimki’s frontcourt is not as powerful, but boasts several very skilled players and even a star.

unics_khimki_ubl_vtb_ (45)

Jordan Mickey is an effective scoring option. The skilled, mobile ex-Heat player was very useful vs. Astana (16.0 points, 21-23 from the field, 4.6 rebounds and a 19.6 efficiency rating), before seeing his numbers dip a bit vs. UNICS (11.5 points, 18-26 from the field, 6.5 rebounds, 15.5 efficiency rating). Andrey Zubkov can get hot occasionally (pouring in 14 points on 6-8 from the field in Game 2 in Kazan), while Malcolm Thomas does a huge amount of work that goes unnoticed. 

Three series stats
5 – The upcoming championship will be Dimitris Itoudis’ fifth, Khimki’s fifth and the fifth final between CSKA and Khimki. 

231 – number of points needed by Khimki to become the second team after CSKA to score 5,000 points in the playoffs.

119 – CSKA and Khimki have met twice in a best-of-five series in the finals. Both ended in a CSKA sweep and a cumulative +119 over six games. 

CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis: “We have a final series against our historic rival in Khimki. We know each other well. Khimki is a very talented team. The series will be tough. I believe our fans will fill the arena and support us at the end of the season.” 

Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis: “We were fortunate to advance to the final series with a full roster, but now we have a loss in Janis Timma, who will miss the series with CSKA due to a broken toe. All the same, in my opinion, this doesn’t make our team spirit or attitude any weaker. I think we have a good shot at competing with CSKA this year. Everything will depend on our energy. Even though we received a berth to the EuroLeague, we understand that the season isn’t over yet. We have the biggest challenge ahead: Doing everything we can to defeat CSKA, which recently proved that it is the strongest team in Europe. Both Khimki and CSKA are experience fatigue, which is normal at the end of the season, but overall we are in good shape, both physically and mentally.”