The series between UNICS Kazan and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar is different from the other three in the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals because both teams are old rivals. Both UNICS and Lokomotiv won the EuroCup title in the past – in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Both teams had current Lokomotiv Evgeny Pashutin as head coach when they won the EuroCup. And, of course, both teams compete domestically against each other in the VTB League.
Because UNICS and Lokomotiv know each other so well, there is little room for surprises. UNICS, however, managed to rally from a double-digit deficit to win Game 1 of the series on Monday using a straightforward but deadly weapon: the three-point shot.
UNICS buried 19 three-point shots, the most by any EuroCup team ever beyond the regular season. The previous best this late in any season was when Valencia Basket hit 18 triples against Zadar back on February 25, 2003, in the competition's debut campaign, en route to a 105-84 win. Monday's shooting spree fell just 1 three-pointer short of tying the EuroCup's all-time single-game record of 20, which UNICS also holds alongside LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne.
Every time UNICS needed offensive answers on Monday, its passers looked for outside shooters. Lokomotiv had been in control early and still led 18-29 early in the second quarter on Andrei Martiuk's score around the basket. It didn't last long, however, as all-time EuroCup three-point king Jamar Smith, Okaro White and John Brown all struck from downtown for UNICS in an 11-0 run to tie 29-29. UNICS was only getting started, though. Isaiah Canaan would hit 3 more shots from beyond the arc while John Holland and Jordan Theodore 1 each for a spectacular 8 triples made in 11 tries that gave the hosts a 51-42 lead after a 33-13 second-quarter run.
Nigel Williams-Goss, whose career-high 31 points kept Lokomotiv in the game, got help from Drew Gordon and Mantas Kalnietis to get the visitors within 75-73 with 6 minutes left. Then, just like in the first half, UNICS saved the victory by dialing long distance. Holland and Canaan blasted triples before Holland's huge dunk at 83-75, providing the cushion needed for UNICS to protect the lead the rest of the way.
"We had amazing three-point shooting. Of course, there was a reason for this, because Loko's tactic was, for some players, to let us shoot," UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis said after the game. "They stayed inside and we were open, mostly from position four. We had a good night and we made those shots."
Of course, UNICS did more than just shoot well to win. Its defense forced Lokomotiv into a season-low 20 turnovers, matching its Round 7 total against Virtus Segafredo Bologna. UNICS was more accurate at the foul line, downing 11 of 13 free throws (84.6%) while Lokomotiv managed just 14 of 22 (63.6%).
"We have to move the ball much better than only 16 assists. Usually, we have 25 assists and even more, but today the reason was tough defense," Coach Pashutin of Lokomotiv said after the game. "It's only the first game. We realize our mistakes. And we're going to be much better for the second game for this level of contact and physicality."
Game 2 of this exciting playoffs series takes place at Basket Hall Krasnodar on Thursday.