Khimki vs. CSKA: Shved's Trials

The third meeting between Russia and the VTB United League's two strongest clubs (though I doubt Krasnodar and Kazan would agree with that description) generally matched expectations, even if CSKA and Khimki avoided a dramatic finish. There were plenty of beautiful plays, 1-on-1 duels and fascinating strategy to go around.

Alexey Shved was at the center of attention. He poured in 28 points against the Army Men the last time these two teams met (in the Euroleague in late December), including the game-winner in the final seconds. CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis turned out to be quite vengeful. He didn't forget Shved's "mischief"  and prepared like crazy for the next encounter. Instead of assigning one of his guards to defend Shved, Itoudis put forward Nikita Kurbanov on the Russian superstar. Kurbanov, of course, enjoys a 4-cm height advantage over Shved to go along with excellent mobility and athleticism. In other words, Itoudis gave Shved his own personal "ceiling", which would prove difficult for even a talented sniper like him to shoot over.

In the end, he wasn't able to break through: five 3-point attempts and zero field goals. He also picked up two quick fouls (Rimas Kurtinaitis deserves some criticism for not making any switches and leaving Shved to defend De Colo...though the Khimki coach doesn't have as many elite defenders at his disposal as Itoudis), forcing Shved to take a seat on the bench earlier than planned.

It's not fair to say that Shved didn't have an impact. He continued to get to the basket and even scored on several pretty drives, which he generally executes without much flair. But that was later when the Army Men had already seized control. Shved scored his first points midway through the 2nd quarter (even though Khimki had 30 in the opening period!) and didn't connect on his first field goal until after halftime. 

Khimki's other star guard, Tyrese Rice, also failed to shine, adding his own 0-4 performance from downtown to Shved's 0-5. Unlike December, when the super duo combined for 50 points, Shved and Rice managed just 26 (CSKA's Kurbanov scored 16 on his own!). Moscow Region could also have used the hulking Dmitry Sokolov, who was sitting on the bench but couldn't play because of an injury. In the previous game vs. the Army Men (Khimki also had to mount a comeback then), Sokolov was the one who mixed it up under the basket, overpowering CSKA's veteran frontcourt and imposing his will.

This time around, Khimki went without a "gladiator". New center Josh Boone, of course, acquitted himself well on the glass, but it's one thing to grab rebounds and another thing entirely to forcibly clear out the space under the basket, throwing elbows left and right. 

That's the short but sweet explanation for CSKA's win (96-85). The Army Men appear to have settled for good atop the regular season standings. Khimki drops to 4th, which means they could theoretically play the Army Men in the semifinals. But Moscow Region still has plenty of time to catch Zenit (the two teams meet in St. Petersburg on February 18) and return to the top-3.

The three-game gap between 8th-place Nizhny Novgorod and 9th-place Krasny Oktyabr is also quite interesting. The quarterfinals may not be set quite yet (there are still 10-16 games left to play in the regular season), but time is running out for the bottom eight clubs.