UNICS Kazan and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar battled at Basket-Hall Kazan for a place in the 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals and when the dust settled, UNICS was celebrating a historic win. The hosts were back in the semis for the first time since 2015 and for the fifth time in club history. It was a dramatic game played point to point, possession by possession. Lokomotiv did a lot of things right, limiting UNICS to just 6 offensive rebounds, which matched its season low, and made only 11 turnovers. Lokomotiv's defense caused EuroCup Regular Season MVP Pierria Henry to shoot 0-for-7 from two-point range and put the hosts' entire frontcourt in foul trouble.
What allowed UNICS to win the game, then? Solid defense and the contributions of in-house veterans. Shooting percentages made the difference and UNICS's defense had to do a lot with it. Lokomotiv was held to just 38.1% shooting inside the arc (16 of 42) and 23.5% from downtown (4 of 17). UNICS only did a bit better, but enough to win the game: 15 of 37 (40.5%) inside the arc and 7 of 17 (41.2%) from three-point range.
On a day in which Trent Lockett, Melvin Ejim, Maurice Ndour and Raymar Morgan combined for 11 points - they together average 36 points, someone had to step up and no one did more than veteran power forward Kostas Kaimakoglou. He will turn 36 on Friday and Kaimakoglou played one of the best games of his career in his seventh season with UNICS. Kaimakoglou was averaging 3.1 points per game this season before Wednesday, but he nevertheless made the difference in the most critical moments. He finished Game 3 with 14 points on 4-of-4 two-point shooting and 2-of-3 on three-pointers. He had 11 points in the second quarter to bring UNICS back to life and hit the go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute.
Anton Ponkrashov, 32, is in his fifth season with UNICS. He did a little it of everything, finishing the game with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and a performance index rating of 12; he had a PIR of 11 in the entire Top 16. Ponkrashov stepped up in critical moments and played a big role in UNICS's win.
With its whole frontcourt in foul trouble, UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis gave Artem Klimenko extended playing time. Not only did he do sensational defensive work on Moustapha Fall, but also contributed on offense with 6 points and 3 rebounds. All three players combined for 11 points and a PIR of 16 in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3, Kaimakoglou, Ponkrashov and Klimenko combined for 27 points and a PIR of 33.
"It is good to have a couple of players who will step up when the team is struggling," Coach Priftis said after the game. "Kostas has experience and I would say the same about Ponkrashov; he was very creative today. He passed the ball and created from the low post. I am glad for both. Also, when we had foul problems, Klimenko was very effective."