By: Rob Scott / @robscott33
Even twelve weeks into the Top 16, this season’s Euroleague continues to surprise and intrigue. Only Barcelona appears to be leading a procession to the top of their group, with more than half a dozen teams across the two groups finding and losing form at the right, or the wrong time. But beyond the wins and losses this week, it was tempting to read more into Thursday’s games.
CSKA overcame a six point deficit with six minutes remaining to beat Unicaja 70-66, led by another deadly performance by Milos Teodosic. He finished with 13 points and five assists, and his back to back threes, along with one from Vladimir Micov, brought CSKA back into the game. More than that, his control of the offense in the final minutes was exemplary. Milos with his game face on is still terrifying for opponents, as opposed to the well-documented ‘bad Milos’ who is more terrifying for his teammates.
If an award for Top 16 MVP existed, he would be taking it home. 15.7 points per game (3rd overall), 5.1 assists (3rd overall), 62% two-point shooting, 41% three-point shooting whilst leading the league in 3-pointers made. If Milos carries this through the playoffs and Final Four, he will be the frontrunner for the real MVP trophy.
Kaun over Krstic?
Sasha Kaun was the other star, finishing with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, the first four of which were dunks. It was probably his best performance this season, diving ruthlessly to the basket and, together with Viktor Khryapa, bullying Unicaja’s twin towers of Luka Zoric and Fran Vazquez completely out of the game in the first half. Kaun made Krstic’s presence more of an afterthought, and with big Serbian has slipped to the bench after Khryapa’s return from injury. He still has a huge part to play for this team, but Kaun getting the nod to start is interesting. Messina knows who he trusts, and that appears to be the ex-Jayhawk.
Yet, despite CSKA’s superiority in the paint, the game was tied at halftime, and Unicaja led until late in the fourth. Which gets to the crucial question – are CSKA letting teams hang around out of a lack of urgency? More importantly, is it something they can just turn off when it actually matters, and could they be caught out in the playoffs?
Last week they threw away a double-digit lead to a hustling but undermanned Zalgiris team before easing away late on. This time Unicaja, a more talented team at this point, but still relying more on effort than elite ability, pushed them all the way.
Zoran Dragic had four breakaway dunks or layups from turnovers in the first half, and Unicaja fed off this relentless energy on the offensive boards as well. That and Marcus Williams’ ability to drain ‘bad’ three point attempts with a man in his face meant that a clearly inferior team hung around and worried the Russians. Let’s not forget that they also beat CSKA by 17 points in Moscow. Augusto Lima’s spectacular block on Khryapa’s layup attempt just before the first half buzzer put a swagger in their step. It demonstrated how little they are worried by playing teams like CSKA, as they showed last week in Madrid.
It would be unfair to ignore how well Unicaja played. Zoric literally and figuratively rebounded in the second half, grabbing offensive boards and helping the Greens stay in the game. Dragic’s steals were brilliantly timed, but also show just how careless CSKA can be with the ball.
Milos in control
This doesn’t seem truly like ‘a Messina team’ yet. When the definition of that is something close to perfection, perhaps this is just nitpicking, searching for problems that won’t matter in the end. Even though they now share the top spot in their group, CSKA haven’t really imposed themselves on a great team yet, but perhaps we are just impatient for this everlasting second phase to finish and some epic battles to begin. It does look like this team will win or lose on the shoulders of one genius with his hands on all the controls. It’s not Messina, it’s Teodosic.