Lev Tigai's Blog: Should UNICS Sit In The Trenches Or Charge The Tank?

Typically, we like to be overly optimistic when previewing a series like the upcoming 2016 VTB United League playoff finals between CSKA and UNICS. Sure, there's a favorite, but that's just on paper. In reality, we convince ourselves, the odds are even and the series promises to be competitive and so on and so forth, blah blah blah... We also like to point out that the underdog's Russian players (whether UNICS or any other team) will definitely give their club an extra boost. But no one ever explains why the Russian players, specifically. In theory, everyone should contribute...

As a rule, that's as far as the analysis goes. It's as good as settled. The trusting fans swallow up the pre-packaged nonsense, with no one to tell them otherwise.

But let me put on my disposable gloves and pick up a disposable fork and attempt to displace at least some of the gibberish to where it belongs. In other words, in the garbage. Let us begin...

The CSKA - UNICS series is not even close to being a 50-50 split. No matter what you might hear from the armchair "experts" and team representatives (who have to pay lip service to the idea in order to boost confidence and observe the accepted code of conduct). Even if the final consisted of only one game, I'd give Kazan a 30% chance at best. But in a five-game series, with CSKA boasting the home-court advantage, their odds aren't better than 1-in-10.

Whether that's good or bad isn't important. It's simply a fact. The only thing that can stop the Army Men from winning another championship would be a bizarre convergence of plausible and implausible circumstances. Khottabych [translator's note: a famous genie from a Soviet fairytale] wouldn't even be able to help, not even if he plucked every hair from his beard and the rest of his body.

Does that mean that there's no intrigue left in the upcoming finals? Not one bit!

Intrigue remains, but it needs to be framed somewhat differently: Does UNICS want to fight CSKA? Not play, but rather fight!

Of course, they will also have to play basketball. But if all Kazan does is play, they'll go down 3-0. I guarantee it. But if they... How do I put it? Ah, yes, I remember another journalistic cliche: "battle". So, if UNICS decides to join battle in the finals, the team will... also go down 3-0.

Why? Because they are playing the top club in Europe, a team that is practically impossible to defeat. The best you can hope for is to give them a scare, perhaps provoke and disrupt.

Now someone probably wants to ask, "What exactly are you asking for? A hockey-style rumble on the basketball court?"

I'm not asking anyone to do anything! I am simply putting myself in UNICS's place and asking myself, "What should I do in these finals?" In answering, I am only stating the obvious. Naturally, I trust in a disciplined and objective approach from the refs. I'm also confident that CSKA has already earned this title and will go on to win it. But we are discussing something else. Will the season come to a ceremonial close or will the finals be truly competitive?

Fine, I'll try a different approach. Imagine watching a game. In theory, it's very exciting. The two teams are matching each other shot for shot...fast breaks, dunks, 3-pointers. But one team maintains a dominant lead the entire time. Up as much as 20 or 30, even when the lead shrinks to seven, it quickly bounces back. Game after game after game. One team is clearly stronger than the other. The other team knows it and doesn't particularly mind. Together, both teams try to put on a show for the fans.

That's not basketball or sports. At best, it's ballet...

But that's the choice UNICS has before it! Ballet or sports. Charge the tank or sit in the trenches. Not to mention that Kazan has already accomplished its goal for the season: not only did the team reach the 2015-16 VTB United League finals, the club also qualified for next season's Euroleague. They did it by surviving a five-game series with Zenit, with the league's leading scorer, Keith Langford, fighting through injuries. What's the point in battling again, especially against a monster like CSKA?

I'm not at all sure there's a point. And I won't judge Kazan if they, say, calmly concede two games in Moscow and try to reward their fans with a competitive game (and, if possible, at least one positive outcome) at home in Kazan. It's not easy to crawl under a tank with a grenade in hand. I would probably chicken out...

Ah yes, I almost forgot. Since I've given predictions thus far (as a rule, unsuccessfully) for each of the playoff series, I need to make one this time, too.


Lev Tigai,
sportfakt.ru analyst