Voigtmann and Hilliard are CSKA’s unsung heroes in defeating Valencia
After CSKA suffered a heavy loss of overtime in Belgrade last week, which brought them to thirteenth place in the table, they urgently needed an upswing. And they did it against Valencia on Thursday night – a worthy rival and a legitimate playoff contender. It was an exciting running game, both teams were determined to fight it until the last buzzer, but in the fourth quarter CSKA showed a quality that was not seen as often in the new season – it ended the game without the opponent the last To give comeback a chance. The eight-time European champion kept control and drove to victory. The end result might suggest that it was easy.
It was not like that.
Jaume Ponsarnau has put together a really competitive squad that is relentless, skilled and capable of turning the game around in a short amount of time. Points were hard to come by in the first quarter as both teams battled for a goal and CSKA took out one point.
Then Mike James stepped forward.
When his playmaker is on a roll, CSKA rolls too. Before you knew it, the hosts were promoted by 12, and James contributed a three-pointer and layup to finish an 11-0 run. Valencia responded instantly, spurred on by Nikola Kalinić’s striking aggressiveness at either end of the pitch and a beautiful miniature of 19-year-old Jaime Pradilla. If he keeps making progress, this young man could one day follow in the footsteps of his many great predecessors who were at the center of the Spanish national team.
After the game was tied at 30 o’clock, it was a signal for James to change gears again and start another run. He was obliged.
But Valencia just wouldn’t let go and when Mike Tobey cut the deficit to 16 seconds in the third quarter it looked like we would watch this tug of war until last buzzer.
It never happened. After a break, CSKA just clicked and saved its fans the nervousness Endgame They had watched several times in the past few weeks. In stark contrast to painful defeats against Alba and Crvena zvezda or a tough win against Maccabi, Thursday’s final against Valencia offered the fans joy instead of drama.
The unsung heroes of CSKA’s triumph were Johannes Voigtmann and Darrun Hilliard. The German striker did a little of everything and was extremely efficient on both ends of the pitch. He played smart, always looking for the best solution and eventually finding one. He scored, grabbed rebounds and relieved his teammates without losing his nerve in critical moments. Voigtmann’s three-pointers at the end of the third quarter set the tone for the final push – CSKA nailed three more in a row out of the city center (including another from Voigtmann), extended its lead to eleven and never looked back.
Hilliard, who was often criticized for his uneven performance last season, played an exemplary game on Thursday. He was consistent, focused, and his shot selection was almost perfect. He was patient with the ball and scored some very important baskets, all of his 12 points coming from the field. For many years the CSKA offense has presented a multi-faceted threat and if Hilliard plays the way he did last night, he is sure to expand the Russian giant’s goal options.
And that means a lot when one of your best players is fighting for a goal. Will Clyburn’s gun went silent for three quarters, in large part due to Kalinić’s great defense. The 2019 Final Four MVP missed their first six shots, including four threes, and went off the field until 6:58 to play in the fourth quarter. And then, with the stakes as big as possible, he found his chance to score and buried an important three-pointer (CSKAs fourth in a row) that pretty much knocked out Valencia. In the last few minutes he was what he had been for this team in recent years – a differentiator.
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