On Saturday, the day before the final game against Panathinaikos, I ran into players of TAU. I chatted with some of them who I know personally for many years. One of them, a key player, told me: «Tomorrow, if you don't have 15 points' lead, you'll never win». This is the way TAU perceived their semifinal against Panathinaikos, and that is why there was much emotion in that semifinal, but no game.
We went to the final to try to win. We were close to it. I'm not trying to find excuses here. We managed to come back twice and we took a lead once. We made several little mistakes like a foul we shouldn't have made, one missed shot, one mistake in defense. The game was very close, and those three or four mistakes cost us the win.
We had an opportunity to put pressure on Panathinaikos when we went 1 point up in the middle of the third quarter. But we failed to finish the third quarter with 2-3-point lead what would have put them in trouble. We didn't have control over the game for most of the time. There was an incredible pressure on all our players on the court. This is what it takes to play in Athens against Panathinaikos. We controlled the game for a couple of minutes, but it was not enough.
It was one of the highest scoring and one of the longest games in Euroleague final history. 61 fouls were called what made the game last 2 hours and 20 minutes. There was some pressure on the referees to officiate the final in a specific way. The semifinals were extremely tight with a lot of physical contact and just a few calls. There was a lot of physical intensity which created problems to the offense. Euroleague was really upset about that. They wanted to market the final and wanted it to be similar to the big finals in Prague and Moscow, with a lot of points. Referees were expected to call more fouls in the final. Both teams accepted that, because we both wanted to play good basketball.
There are two ways for the referees to control the game. First, they start calling fouls, players step back not to foul and everything is fine. Second way is what actually happened in the final. Neither of team stepped back and referees kept calling fouls. As a result, CSKA was handicapped, because we had fewer players to distribute the calls on. I'm not complaining. As I said during the press-conference, I might disagree with some calls, but I agree with the general idea. That's the way the final game should be played. Otherwise, it's not basketball.
It's disappointing and frustrating to lose the final. However, there were many positive things about this Euroleague season. We finished the season with the best record, won many difficult games and played good basketball most of the time. We did it without one of our leaders, David Vanterpool, who missed the crucial part of the season due to injury. It would be interesting to see how the team would play with both David and Oscar, but there is no point in saying «if» while referring to the past.
It would be an incredible accomplishment to win two Euroleagues in a row. Only Maccabi did it during last 15 years. We had a strong desire to win. That would be something special. It was painful to lose. We could find a lot of things we could have done better, but many of those things got us to the final. Winning two Euroleague titles in a row is not a dream. It's rather a goal for the years to come. And my true dream is to coach a team in the Olympic games, walk with my team in the opening ceremony. One of my favorite movies is Chariots of Fire, where British running team prepares for the Olympic games of Paris.
When we started to work together in September 2005, the club was coming from a very disappointing experience of the home Final Four. I still remember my first Euroleague game against Siena. We lost at home and in the clip before the game there were many scenes from the Final Four that ended 4 months before.
After 2 years, we are here with the best overall record in Euroleague, a title and a piece of another one. And we should remember that each season we lost one of our starters. Would Panathinaikos be the same without, let's say, Diamantidis or Siskauskas? One more thing, I would like to make it clear one more time. I'm not comparing Oscar to David. My dream would be to have both of them healthy and ready at the same moment.
Now, we have to finish this season and start preparing for the next one. First, we have the Russian Championship playoffs ahead of us. It's a tough challenge, because the four best teams arrived in the semifinals and we face our major historic rival Dynamo Moscow in the semifinal. Dynamo has nothing to lose and they have good players and excellent coach. We should forget about the games we played against them earlier in the season and start from scratch. It will be difficult. We have a deeper bench, what must be a factor. We must play the game hard and intense, so our longer bench could be of influence. We'll be extremely hungry and extremely upset, but we must control our level of aggressiveness not to become too nervous. If we advance we'll face either Khimki or UNICS, who both defeated us at their home. It will be difficult to win the title again this year, but that is our first goal.
Second, we have to prepare for the next season. Next year everybody will try to model Panathinaikos to have a chance to beat them. It happens every season. You either model the most successful team or you should be incredibly strong to rely on some other way of playing like Panathinaikos did this year. Panathinaikos will be the team to beat, as they kept Diamantidis and will have the same depth in the roster next year. We need to understand what the little things we need to improve are, if we face them next year in a crucial game, like a Top-16 game, a playoff game, a semifinal or the final. For sure, our biggest goal for the next season is to get to the Final Four once again. We will try to make it one more time.
If we make another Final Four next year, we will be a real danger to the opponents. But we need to get there first. And it will be interesting to see who will be participating in the Final Four, because at that moment Barcelona, Benetton and Climamio are risking not to be in the Euroleague for the next season. How many players will come back from NBA and how many players will leave for NBA will also be a factor. How many changes of coaches will be? And there will be many, according to rumors. It's always the same story.
I would like to thank our fans. They were less numerous than Panathinaikos fans, but they supported us incredibly. It was really important to get this kind of support, not just before or during the Final Four, but also after the Final Four. One of the nicest moment for all of us, coaches and players, happened in Athens airport the day after the final. We met a lot of our fans there. They were extremely nice, extremely supportive. They made us understand that they were still happy about the way the team performed in such a difficult game. They also told me that last time CSKA played two finals in a row was back in 1970-71 when the team was coached by Alexander Gomelsky.
I was very pleased with the psychological situation in Saint-Petersburg a few days after the Euroleague final. We played a tough, aggressive game and came home with a good win. For me, it was a sign that players started to look ahead, rather than to look backwards. Everybody played well and that's why I gave my players two days off to rest and start preparing for Dynamo in a good mood.
I really hope that one of our young Russian players will make significant progress. Unfortunately, last six Final Fours proved that a young player was never a factor. To be a factor the player needs to be at least 25-26 and to be able to perform under the pressure. I hope that maybe Anton, who's performing at a higher level in the Russian League now, will be able to help us a little bit more in Euroleague.
I told Anton before the Euroleague final that he was going to play. I understand, it's difficult for a young player even to walk inside and see this green crowd. If you're young, you'd better forget that you're playing final game. In Saint-Petersburg Anton played aggressive, had big minutes and contributed a lot. If he comes out well from this year playoffs, he can be a totally different player next year. However, we should remember the Latin proverb «Natura non facit saltus». Everything needs its time to develop. Such as a flower, a child or a player. It's naive to expect major improvement and changes overnight.
Once I was in a team that won Euroleague, the next year lost in the final and we had another season ahead of us. It was Kinder Bologna back in 2000. The situation was completely different there. The owner decided to step back financially after supporting the team for 5 years and winning one Euroleague and 3 Italian championships. The budget was cut. We didn't qualify for the Euroleague. We played in the Saporta Cup. Fortunately, it's not absolutely the case of CSKA. We are lucky we don't have to make changes. Most of our great players are under contract so it will be okay. I'm sure.