Dimitris Priftis vs. Rimas Kurtinaitis, Kazan’s defense vs. Alexey Shved, Maurice Ndour vs. Jordan Mickey.
When and where
Game 1. Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia. 8:30 PM MSK, May 22
Game 2. Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia. 7:00 PM MSK, May 24
Game 3. BCMO, Khimki, Russia. 8:00 PM MSK, May 27
Game 4*. BCMO, Khimki, Russia. 7:00 PM MSK, May 29
Game 5*. Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia. 7:00 PM MSK, June 1
* – if necessary
UNICS: 2nd place (21-5)
Khimki: 3rd place (20-6)
Three burning questions
Can UNICS stop Alexey Shved?
The series between UNICS and Khimki will likely decide who gets a EuroLeague ticket next season. Last year, these two teams, CSKA’s two biggest threats in recent years, also met in the semifinals with similar stakes. Shved was unstoppable, setting a new playoff record and then career-high in the League with 36 points in the Final Four semifinal.
In the first meeting between these teams in 2018-19, Shved once again impressed, recording 24 points and five assists in a 78-65 Khimki win. He was injured, however, in the second meeting and Kazan took advantage with a 73-58 victory.
Shved showed no rust in his return to the court, averaging 26.2 points and 5.7 assists over the final four regular-season games. He went on to post 22.0 points and 5.3 assists in the sweep of Astana. UNICS will split Shved defensive duties between several perimeter players, but on paper the White and Green don’t have anyone that can make life difficult for the Khimki star. Kazan’s success, or lack thereof, is likely to be the biggest factor in the series.
27 PTS & 5 AST – Alexey Shved was unstoppable in Game 1 vs Astana 🔥 pic.twitter.com/s0X8vqIByC
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) May 5, 2019
UNICS also has a dangerous scorer in Errick McCollum. The Kazan guard is even beating Shved in the playoff scoring race, averaging 23 per game. Expect an exciting duel between the two snipers.
Who will win the battle of the paint: Maurice Ndour or Jordan Mickey?
Shved isn’t the only player on Khimki’s roster capable of winning a game single-handedly. In the series with Astana, Jordan Mickey was just as effective as Shved. He put up 18 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes in Game 2, shooting 8-8 from the field, before dropping 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Game 3, knocking down 11 of 12 shots.
✔ 25 PTS
✔ 8 REB
✔ 11/12 FG
✔ 32 EFF pic.twitter.com/MTU0GXTYdK
— VTB United League (@VTBUL) May 10, 2019
It’s hard to say if Mickey will have the same success against UNICS, which boasts its own athletic, mobile big man in Maurice Ndour, who’s capable of playing both positions in the frontcourt. The Senegalese forward is efficient on offense, but best known for his defense. Can Mickey overpower Ndour in the paint or will defense win the day? This match-up will have a big impact.
Shved and McCollum will headline the semifinal series. But as is often the case in the postseason, this secondary match-up could end up being just as influential. For that reason, Jamar Smith is also worth mentioning. He’s most dangerous in a complementary role, averaging 12.4 points and 3.2 assists while coming off the bench for Kazan.
Is Pierria Henry healthy?
UNICS’s starting point guard last played on April 28 vs. Zielona Gora. Kazan made it past Kalev without the American star, but Dimitris Priftis will need everyone healthy against Khimki. It’s understood that Henry was available vs. the Estonians, but the team decided to save him. Henry is certain to play, but will he provide the same level of playmaking and clutch shooting the fans are used to after almost a month off the court?
Of course, both teams have enjoyed a lengthy break between games. UNICS last played on May 8 and Khimki on May 10. The team that finds its rhythm the quickest will have an advantage.
1 – UNICS and Khimki are meeting in a League playoff series for the first time.
Even though these are two of the League’s biggest clubs, they are meeting in a full-fledged playoff series for the first time. Kazan and Khimki have met twice at the Final Four, both times in the semifinals. Khimki has won both meetings, in 2018 and 2011.
This unexpected stat makes the match-up even more interesting. For example, we don’t know how important UNICS’s home-court advantage will prove to be. Overall, Kazan has a 5-2 record vs. Khimki at home in the League.
3-0 – UNICS needs a sweep to move above .500 all-time in the playoffs. Right now Kazan is 21-23 for a .477 winning percentage, which ranks 6th all-time in the League.
1 – number of wins needed for Rimas Kurtinaitis to move into 3rd place all-time on the playoff coaching wins list. The Lithuanian boss has won 17. Dimitris Itoudis has 35 victories, Evgeny Pashutin – 25, Ettore Messina – 18.
UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis: “Our opponent is a EuroLeague team with a very strong roster. It’s obvious they will be very tough games. After they added Janis Timma and Alexey Shved returned from injury, they have become very strong. We need energy and focus on offense, plus aggressive defense.”
Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis: “UNICS has a good team this season. They are dangerous. They managed to beat CSKA twice and us once. But we are also ready to play, even though we don’t have home-court advantage. On the other hand, when we are playing well, it doesn’t really matter what court we’re on. I hope we play with focus. Judging by practices, everyone on the team understands what’s at stake, so they are giving everything. The most important thing is that we don’t have injuries. Of course, both teams had a big break, which wasn’t very convenient for us or for UNICS, but everyone is in the same boat. Henry is expected to return to the court after a long absence. He’s the motor on the team, but the biggest problem for us is Smith, who’s a great shooter. You can also single out Ejim, who plays at both the three and four, and Ndour. Put simply, we’re facing a good team and we need to play them at full strength.”