Our Euroleague group proved to be very competitive. Siena is definitely a Final Four team. So far among our Top 16 rivals only TAU managed to advance to the Final Four. It was in 2006, and back then TAU was the team that defeated CSKA in 2005 in the semifinal. Taking into consideration that we might face Panathinaikos, Unicaja Malaga or two other excellent teams, if we advance to the playoffs, this season seems to be the hardest during my four years with CSKA.
I remember my first season Top 16 here, as we started with Lietuvos Rytas, another Lithuanian Euroleague caliber team, on the road before hosting TAU. With TAU, I remember we were down by 13 by the end of the first half, but we managed to come up with a great second half and won by 6. Because of TAUs loss to Lietuvos Rytas in Vilnius, our last game in Vitoria was not important. This year the situation is somehow similar, yet much more complicated. We are glad, that we had such a big margin against Ulker and Cibona.
We got scared and collapsed under the pressure
In Siena, we didnt play as a team, and, as a result, we were outplayed in every aspect of the game. We got scared and collapsed under the pressure. We were shy. For the first time Ive been here, we played with the feel that everything was already decided. We didnt show the slightest belief in our ability to win, we were just frightened, even when we were up. We werent aggressive. At all. Thats what shocked me the most. And Im sure about what Im saying, because I reviewed the game many times.
I remember that during my first year with CSKA (the team that won the Euroleague title at the end) before the game with TAU we were very scared, even at practices. Also just before the semifinal against Barcelona the team was extremely scared for 3-4 days. We were frightened to lose another semifinal and we started 0-7, and we played up-tight the whole first half, when in the second half J R pushed the team to the next level.
This defeat complicated our life, as we have to win both home games now, if we want to secure one of the two first places. The only thing we can do now is to try to regain our confidence using Russian League and Russian Cup games. The good thing is that we won the game against Khimki, although we were pretty nervous at the beginning.
As for Russian Cup, its extremely important to us. We are a new team this year, and all new teams come to a moment when they have a chance to win their first title. Its important what you do with that chance. In 2001, with Kinder, we also had a new team with such young talents as Manu Ginobili, Marco Jaric, Matjaz Smodis and David Andersen, as well as some veterans like Antoine Rigaudeau and Rashard Griffith. In the quarterfinal of the Italian Cup (in Italy its Final Eight, not Final Four), we managed to defeat Biella, at that time an A2 team, only in overtime. We were playing the Final Eight right in the middle of the best-of-five series of the Euroleague final. We split the first two games 1-1 with TAU.
Once you have won something together, you feel like a unit going against the opponent. Its that simple
Before going to Forly for the Final Eight the new and enthusiastic owner of the club, who had just bought it, addressed the team in the locker room saying not to get hurt in Forly, as we had to play in Vitoria. I called a meeting with the team to understand whether they were going to Forly to win the title, or just save themselves for the games in Vitoria. The teams answer was extremely clear. Being a new team, it was important for us to go and get the first title which will give us additional confidence we might need in Vitoria. We were lucky to escape with a win in the first game against Biella, and we easily won the next two games, each one by 20 points. We went to Vitoria and won Game 3. After that we collapsed in Game 4, as we thought we had already won the Euroleague. Finally, we won the Euroleague title in Game 5 in Bologna in a very good game from both teams.
I was thinking about that, as this CSKA team is a new team. Of course, we have a few veterans who have been playing here for years, but we have so many new players and so many players that changed their role inside the team (like Viktor Khryapa who is now playing a much more important role). So its important for us to win this title. By saying this I dont want to put extra-pressure on my players. If you play for CSKA (or any big European club), youre always expected to win. But, first of all, I hope we will play a consistent Final Four.
The crucial point is that every team has to learn how to win. Sooner or later. It might be now, it might be later, it might be next year, but we have to learn it. The sooner, the better. With a new team, when you head into a crucial game, you dont know who will support you, or who will shy away. Its like a real battle, where you may find true warriors by your side, who will fight risking their lives, or you may find the ones that will be scared to death and run away. So far we dont know.
Once you have won something together, you feel like a unit going against the opponent. Its that simple.