Week 21 In Review: UNICS Protects 2nd Place In Krasnodar, VEF Continues To Surprise

Week 21 In Review: UNICS Protects 2nd Place In Krasnodar, VEF Continues To Surprise

Looking back on the biggest stories from the weekend.

UNICS overcomes 16-point deficit to Loko

UNICS and Lokomotiv have probably grown sick of each over the past two weeks. On Saturday, the teams met for the fourth time in a row. On paper, Krasnodar looked like the favorite: Kazan eliminated the Railwaymen from the EuroCup playoffs and Loko was out for revenge. Not to mention, UNICS needed to prepare for Tuesday’s semifinal game vs. Valencia, whereas Kuban can focus solely on the VTB League. 

Lokomotiv was in the driver’s seat for the first 25 minutes. The Red and Green were more dynamic on offense and shut down the paint, forcing Kazan to attack from outside. The strategy worked as UNICS failed to knock down a single 3-pointer until late in the 3rd quarter. 

Just when the the game looked like it was over with Loko leading by 16, UNICS turned the tables with a 22-1 run that proved enough for the win and keeps Kazan in 2nd place in the standings. 

Loko could still finish in the top three. The game vs. Khimki at the beginning of April will likely be decisive. Nonetheless, Krasnodar has reason for concern, posting a 2-5 record so far this season against top-six teams. 

VEF continues its amazing rise

After a loss to CSKA in January, VEF was last in the standings with a 2-11 record. Who could have thought that with a month and a half to go in the regular season, the Latvians would be contending for a playoff spot? Now VEF has the longest active winning streak in the League at five games and only trails Kalev by a game and a half for 8th place. 

On Sunday, Riga took care of business vs. Avtodor. The Latvians knew exactly how to play their Russian rival. Saratov’s tempo was slow with nine three-point attempts (making four) and scored under 80 points for only the third time this season (78).       

VEF played its brand of basketball, evenly distributing the offense between the paint and the perimeter. Forward Mareks Mejeris played, perhaps, his best game in the League, scoring 26 points:

Meanwhile, point guard Jabril Durham matched a season-best with 16 assists.

VEF is now tied with Avtodor on wins and isn’t far behind 8th-place Kalev. That said, Riga only has five games remaining, including three vs. UNICS, Loko and Nizhny.

Kalev’s Philly duo couldn’t stop Khimki

Gunning for a first-ever playoff appearance, Kalev hosted Khimki on Sunday. For 38 minutes, the Estonians played even with the visitors. Arnett Moultrie scored 22 points in the first half:

Then a second ex-participant of the Philadelphia Process, Tony Wroten, caught fire, helping Kalev build a sizable lead midway through the 3rd quarter:

But Khimki had an answer every time and eventually took care of business down the stretch. Stefan Markovic hit a three to put the visitors in front, while Malcolm Thomas’ sizzling pass to Janis Timma, who was making his Khimki debut, put the game away. 

Despite the loss, Kalev remains in 8th place and still has a good chance of making the playoffs. The Estonians’ schedule is comparable to Avtodor’s and the Wroten-Moultrie combo, which combined for 50 points vs. Khimki, appears ready to wreak more havoc on the League. 

PARMA snaps a 10-game losing streak

Perm celebrated on Saturday as PARMA defeated Enisey to snap a 10-game losing streak. Perm could have won in regulation, but Artem Komissarov forced overtime in style:

PARMA finished the job in overtime. The win helped Perm catch Zielona Gora in the standings and create some separation from last-place Tsmoki-Minsk. 

“Congratulations to PARMA on the win. Great job. They played well, especially in overtime. We played poorly, which is why we lost,” Oleg Okulov had his shortest post-game press conference of the season.

Astana continues to set club records

Astana defeated Tsmoki-Minsk at home. The Belarusians hung around in the first half, but had no answers for Astana’s offense in the second as the home team outscored them 57-32. 

This was Astana’s 13th win of the season, tying the club record from the 2014-15 season. Emil Rajkovic’s men have virtually guaranteed a playoff spot and can now focus on finishing with the highest possible seed. 4th-place Lokomotiv looks especially vulnerable at the moment.

Showtime in Poland: Miller-McIntyre almost gets triple-double, Reynolds tries to shoot free throws for Zielona Gora

Zenit learned from its recent overtime losses and has done a much better job of protecting leads in recent games. St. Petersburg raced to a 22-point lead at halftime vs. Zielona Gora and had no trouble winning in Poland. 

Zenit also put on quite the show. Jalen Reynolds provided a couple of monster dunks: 

Then Anton Pushkov put in his bid for Dunk of the Week:

Late in the game, Reynolds even tried to shoot free throws at the wrong end of the court:

Codi Miller-McIntyre also came agonizingly close to the first triple-double of the season and the third of his career: The guard finished with 10 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

Team of the week

Jabril Durham ran VEF’s offense, dishing out a season-best 16 assists in the win over Avtodor. 
Codi Miller-McIntyre came close to a triple-double in Poland and Zenit took down Zielona Gora.
Durham ran the offense for VEF and Mareks Mejeris was the beneficiary, scoring a career-high 26 points to go with a 28 efficiency rating. 
Jordan Mickey saved Khimki from an upset in Tallinn. The Yellow and Blue center scored 25 points to go with eight rebounds and four blocks.
Finally, Maurice Ndour was the driving force in UNICS’s comeback in Krasnodar: 22 points, six rebounds.