The fourth match of the final series of the VTB United League will be held on May 27 in St. Petersburg – Zenit will host CSKA. Already, this confrontation can be called the most stubborn in the last six seasons. Prior to that, for five years in a row, no matter who was the rival of CSKA, the Moscow club won the decisive series with a clean sheet. But in the third match of the current final, Zenit won (93:79) and reduced the gap (1:2). In the fourth game, the blue-white-blues have every chance to level the score in the series. To do this, they need to repeat the tactics of a winning match – act selflessly on defense and show a high percentage of long-range and medium shots.
The birth of intrigue
The first two games of the final series of the VTB United Basketball League did not seem to portend any intrigue. On their site in Moscow, the army team won two convincing victories – 83:59 and 82:73. But during the third match – it took place on April 25 in St. Petersburg – Zenit was able to rebuild in defense, showed an excellent percentage of hits and beat the army team (93:79).
This victory of blue-white-blue guarantees a long final streak, says Zenit CEO Alexander Tserkovny.
– It was important for us to return to the fight after two unsuccessful matches, when we frankly did not succeed. In the third match of the series, CSKA basketball players spent most of the meeting at their high level, but we won thanks to the crazy dedication and support of the fans. Our fans, as always, were at their best, the team had a good game. The guys wanted to rehabilitate themselves for an unsuccessful trip to Moscow, ”he said in an interview with Izvestia.
Forward of “Zenith” Sergey Monya one of the reasons for the victory in the third match called the team’s much better game in defense than in the first two games.
– We also looked more confident in the rebounds. But most importantly, we increased the percentage of medium and long-range shots. Seryoga Karasev hit well, they helped each other in defense. Managed to stop Alexei Shved and Will Clyburn. We intercepted a lot of balls, ran into fast breaks, in which we scored a lot of points,” he said.
The hosts really were very reliable in defense, as evidenced by the number of losses (15) and the accuracy of two-pointers (11/35) of the army team. The heroes of the meeting were also Sergey Karasev and Jordan Miki. They scored 19 and 23 points respectively.
– The difference in the score in the third match is not accidental. I saw a completely different Zenit, with a completely different defense structure. We will not go into details, but CSKA was not ready for such a development of events, – Dmitry Shakulin, vice-champion of Europe, ex-coach of CSKA and the Russian national team, told Izvestia. – Plus, the fact that Miki and Karasev gave a great match. Especially happy for Sergei. He was good at team play. He used to play under the guidance of his dad, there were 6-7 combinations for him. He scored his points regularly, went to the NBA. Then he had a lot of sores in Khimki. And only this season he returns to his level, with good implementation, attitude, confidence, positioning.
Almost eternal rivals
Sergey Karasev and Alexey Shved are the main characters of this series. They almost simultaneously returned to Russia from the NBA. The Swede signed a contract with Khimki in 2015, Karasev joined Zenit a year later. From 2016 to 2019, all confrontations between the Moscow Region and St. Petersburg clubs were considered primarily as a sniper duel between Shved and Karasev. They gave out powerful performances, but never led their clubs to titles.
They had a chance to shine together at EuroBasket 2017 as part of the national team. Alas, shortly before the tournament, Karasev was injured, and Shved’s efforts (became the best sniper of the tournament and entered the symbolic five) were enough to bring the team to the semi-finals. Defeats to Serbia and then to Spain in the match for third place shattered the fans’ dreams of a long-awaited continental championship medal.
However, in 2019 Karasev joined Khimki. There were high expectations from the duet of the two strongest players of the generation, but Sergey was never able to play brightly in the yellow-blue lineup. Injuries interfered, and when he recovered and returned to the floor, he was always in the shadow of his star partner. Last summer, the striker returned to Zenit, where he really hoped to restart his career. The Swede moved to CSKA in the hope of adding to his collection of team trophies (the last time he won the title of champion of Russia in the 2011/12 season).
The star players did a great job of getting used to the new teams, and after the departure of many legionnaires, they even took the first roles. Now they fight each other in the final. In Moscow matches, Shved and company literally tore Zenit apart. The blue-white-blues’ only bright spot was Karasev, who scored 20 points and made 5/8 three-pointers in the second game.
In the third match in St. Petersburg, the blue-white-blue striker again became the best. Sergey Karasev scored 14 points in the first 11 minutes of the match and eventually finished the meeting with 19 points on 7-of-9 from the field, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist and 1 block shot.
CSKA is still the favorite
In the fourth match, Zenit, most likely, will again not be able to count on its main point guard Dmitry Kulagin. The Russian was injured and missed the third match. However, he was successfully replaced by Denis Zakharov. A pupil of Viktor Shved practically did not play in the playoffs, but at the right time he gave the team the necessary energy. It was Zakharov who was one of the key players in the third meeting. The point guard scored 10 points and was very useful in defense.
However, CSKA remains the favorite of this series. The defending champions are still ahead and can also count on all their players.
– Zenit needs to have time to recover in order to once again show the same intensity as in the third match. And, of course, much will depend on the qualifications of the referees. CSKA will play tough, according to the Serbian system. After all, Dimitris Itoudis is a student of Zeljko Obradovic. Basketball players make 40 contacts, and after that the referees divide the line between the whistle – called a foul – or miss the aggressiveness of the defender. And this knocks down the rhythm in the attack and the composure of the attacking players, – said Dmitry Shakulin.
Even if CSKA wins in the fourth match, this does not mean the end of the series. It is fought up to four victories. This means that, regardless of the result, the fifth match will also take place – it will be held on May 30 at the Megasport arena.