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VTB-League.com recaps the action in the VTB United League playoff semifinals, highlighting the top performers and most exciting moments.


Return. CSKA defeated Nizhny Novgorod in three games

CSKA bounced back quickly from its unsuccessful appearance at the Euroleague Final Four, sweeping last year's finalists Nizhny Novgorod.


CSKA last won the Euroleague in 2008 in Madrid. The 2015 Final Four was once again held in the Spanish capital, which was seen as a good omen for the Red-Blue faithful. Unfortunately, the Army Men came up short once again. CSKA faced Olympiacos, who eliminated them in 2012 and 2013, in the semifinals. The Russian club led most of the contest, but the Greeks made a late charge and pulled out a two-point win.

That game was played on May 15 with the series against Nizhny Novgorod starting just six days later. The Army Men had defeated Nizhny four times already during the regular season, but the Volga club hoped to take advantage of CSKA's lingering disappointment from the Final Four.

CSKA, however, threw the first punch. Nizhny hung around in the 1st quarter thanks to its perimeter shooting, but the second period belonged to the home team. CSKA improved its outside defense and grabbed a 14-point lead at halftime.

The Army Men showed some cracks in the 3rd quarter. Nizhny put together a 12-0 run, cutting the deficit to two. The 4th quarter featured several lead changes. Nizhny's Trey Thompkins and Artsiom Parakhouski both had four fouls, which caused some problems on defense. Trailing by three points with a minute and a half left to play, Nizhny committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Alexander Kaun. The Moscow big man made both free throws and CSKA went on to win the game, 86-79.


Game 2 got off to a similar start. After a competitive 1st quarter, CSKA pulled away in the second, putting together a 14-point lead. This time, the Muscovites didn't let Nizhny threaten, holding the visitors to 15 points in the 3rd quarter. Little changed in the 4th quarter as CSKA cruised to a 97-77 win. The reigning champions headed to Nizhny in good spirits, having bounced back from the Euroleague disappointment to take a 2-0 series lead.


Prior to Game 3 at home, Nizhny Novgorod promised to do everything possible to extend the series. The 1st quarter was a shootout. CSKA's two Andrey's–Kirilenko and Vorontsevich–scored the team's first 17 points and helped give the Army Men a 36-30 lead after only 10 minutes.

It's hard to maintain that tempo for 40 minutes and both teams began to emphasize defense. CSKA was more successful. The visitors dominated in the paint during the 2nd and 3rd quarters and led by 18, 79-61, entering the fourth. The closest Nizhny would get in the 4th quarter was nine points as the season came to an end. CSKA, meanwhile, was the first team to qualify for the finals.


7 – number of wins CSKA enjoyed over Nizhny Novgorod during the 2014-15 season, including two victories in the Euroleague.


Nizhny Novgorod head coach Ainars Bagatskis after Game 2:
– We played good, quality basketball in spurts, but in order to stay in the game against CSKA you have to be at 100% for all 40 minutes, not just five, seven or 30 minutes. You have to stay disciplined and play smart. It's hard to compete with CSKA when they get rolling, like at the start of the game when we looked lost at times.



Digging Deep. Khimki eliminated Lokomotiv-Kuban

Despite injuries, Khimki held off Lokomotiv-Kuban in an epic five games.


Two ambitious clubs met in the semifinals with both employing an exciting, up-tempo game. The series met expectations from the opening minutes of Game 1. Khimki set the tone early on, but Kuban kept its opponent close, trailing by 2-3 points in the 4th quarter, though it couldn't seem to take the lead.

With a minute and a half left to play, Kuban made another attempt to go in front. Malcolm Delaney tossed the ball to Krunoslav Simon at the top of the key, but he wasn't ready and the ball slipped between his hands. At the other end, Khimki knocked down a three, though Delaney was able to answer with one of his own.

Moscow Region missed twice on its final possession, giving the Red-Greens a chance to tie or win. Delaney got the ball once again, but this time he lost control trying to get past his defender and the clock ran out before Lokomotiv was able to regain possession. Khimki won, 76-75.


Lokomotiv also had big ambitions last season. The Railwaymen played CSKA in the quarterfinals and won the first two games on the road. But Loko let the Army Men back into the series, dropping the next two at home. Game 5 in Moscow wasn't close as the Army Men stormed to victory. The roster underwent some major changes during the offseason and this team's moment of truth came in Game 2. Krasnodar had only defeated Khimki once on the road and never in the VTB United League. But going down 2-0 in the series was not an option.

Loko got Anthony Randolph back for the game, while Khimki had to go without Paul Davis. His absence had a big impact on the game. After a close 1st quarter, Kuban took over the paint in the 2nd, grabbing a 14-point lead. Khimki made an impressive comeback in the 4th quarter, forcing a dramatic finish.

The biggest play came with a minute left on the clock. Khimki had tied the score, but Derrick Brown had other plans. His deadly 3-pointer helped Lokomotiv regain control and go on to win it, 83-76. That tied the series at 1-1 with two games coming up in Krasnodar.


Lokomotiv-Kuban president Andrey Vedischev after Game 3:
– When you think about the loss in Game 1, you understand that two things could have happened. First, the team could have gotten frustrated and given up without a fight. Second, the team could come together and play even better in the following games. We evidently chose the second scenario and I'm very happy that the guys took the Game 1 loss as motivation.


Lokomotiv underwent a catharsis in Game 2 and headed back to Krasnodar in a good mood. Cheered on by the fans, Kuban took a quick lead, though Khimki was heroically able to keep it close in the first half depite missing Davis and Augustine.

Loko, however, could not be stopped after halftime. Krasnodar's defense limited Khimki to 16 points in the final two quarters, while the offense was also effective. Little-used reserve Nikita Balashov was the X-factor, scoring in double digits, including a pretty alley-oop and three-pointer.


Khimki was on the brink of elimination after the Game 3 loss. The Yellow-Blues were once again without Augustine and Davis, while Lokomotiv was missing Anthony Randolph. A sold-out Basket Hall provided terrific support, trying to help Lokomotiv finish the series at home.

But Krasnodar's game plan was disrupted after just five minutes when Croat guard Marko Popovic checked in. He was injured much of the season, but got healthy in time for the postseason and came off the bench to knock down two threes. That sparked Khimki's perimeter shooting after ice-cold performances in Games 2 and 3. Khimki ultimately went 9-15 from downtown in the first half, ripping off an 18-0 run in the 2nd quarter to take a 22-point lead.

The momentum shifted in the second half. Kuban's defense improved noticeably, limiting Khimki's open looks on the perimeter. Despite the improved defense, Lokomotiv struggled on offense. While the home team steadily reduced the deficit, 2-17 shooting from the perimeter and 17-26 from the line was too much to overcome. Despite its best efforts, Loko couldn't pull off the comeback, setting up a decisive Game 5 in Khimki.


Davis Factor
Lokomotiv's season ultimately finished much like the previous one. After missing an opportunity at home, the Railwaymen were not at their best on the road. The Red-Greens got off to a decent start, but they lost the initiative once Paul Davis entered the game. Ruslan Pateev got injured in Game 4, meaning Khimki was expected to be without a center. Davis, however, made a shock return and played a key role in Khimki's win.

His 10 points in four minutes during the 1st quarter put Moscow Region in front. While Loko cut the lead to one in the 2nd quarter, the Yellow-Blues appeared in complete control. You could see it in the 3rd quarter, which Khimki won by a score of 29-15. Sergey Monia started the period for the home team with two threes, sparking a big 10 minutes of offense. At the other end, Lokomotiv could barely muster a response. Khimki slammed the door shut early in the 4th quarter, knocking down three threes and going on to win, 94-77.

Khimki's 2013-14 season had also ended in disappointing fashion. Moscow Region was swept by Nizhny Novgorod in the quarterfinals after compiling a perfect record during the regular season. Khimki was hampered by injuries then too, but this time around they overcame their difficulties and advanced to the league finals for the second time in club history.


380-377 – Lokomotiv had a slight advantage in total points scored in the series. This was an extremely close, hard-fought series.


Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis after Game 5:
– I'm very happy about this win as everyone knew about our injury issues. It looked to everyone like we wouldn't be able to overcome our opponent after the loss in Game 2 in Khimki without our top centers. There were problems, but we solved them. I'm happy about how we played in Game 4, tying up the series and bringing it back to our court. I don't want to point anyone out, but I do want to thank everyone for their effort. I don't have any complaints with any players, not just because we won, but because of how we battled.


Sergey Monia (Khimki).

Monia didn't always score a lot, but he played at least 28 minutes in each game. He does more for Khimki than just score. In addition to the immense amount of work he put in on both ends of the floor, he started scoring in the final games of the series. The Russian forward knocked down five of seven three-pointers in Games 4 and 5, with almost every basket having a big impact on the momentum. Monia averaged 7.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks and an efficiency rating of 12.8 in the series.