CSKA Moscow Routs the L.A. Clippers, 94-75CSKA Moscow, the Euro League champion, outscored the L.A. Clippers in each quarter and posted a 94-75 victory in an NBA Europe Live Tour game. Trajan Langdon led CSKA with 17 points and seven rebounds in a game-high 38 minutes. Theo Papaloukas, who was last seen helping Greece's national team destroy Team USA in the FIBA World Championships, performed similar duties for CSKA, not so much with his 10 points but rather with his nine assists against only one turnover; he comes off the bench for CSKA but is their best player and, according to NBA TV, is the highest paid player in the Euro League. In contrast, Shaun Livingston had no assists and seven turnovers for the Clippers; Sam Cassell was not much better in his return to the starting lineup, scoring eight points on 3-11 shooting and committing two turnovers while only having one assist. Chris Kaman topped the Clippers with 15 points and 11 rebounds but struggled on defense, earning a tongue lashing from Cassell at one point. Elton Brand is apparently waiting to bring his "A" game until the results actually count; he finished with eight points and eight rebounds, shooting only 2-7 from the field.
If CSKA's win is considered a triumph of international basketball over U.S. basketball then some kind of asterisk should be applied--three of CSKA's starters are American players: Langdon, J.R. Holden and David Vanterpool. Holden had a forgettable game but Vanterpool (14 point, five rebounds) was one of six CSKA players to score in double figures. The Clippers were one of the top teams in the NBA last year, so it seems strange to see them get blown out by a team with those guys playing heavy minutes. After all, Langdon played in just 119 games in three NBA seasons, shooting well on three pointers and free throws but doing nothing else with distinction in limited playing time. Vanterpool played briefly for the Wizards in 2001 and Holden has not played in the NBA at all. So what in the name of James Naismith is going on here? First, while the NBA Europe Live Tour is a great showcase for the international teams--who have already started their regular seasons--these are the first preseason exhibition games for the NBA teams that are involved. Second, the games use a curious hybrid of NBA and FIBA rules (as I explained in my first post about the Tour). Third, the American players are fully integrated into their teams in roles that maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. Consider Langdon, the former Duke star and surely by far the best known of the three Americans. When he played in the NBA he could neither create his shot off of the dribble nor could he play effective one on one defense. What he could always do is make open shots. CSKA plays an assortment of zones and trapping defenses that don't leave him on an island and they provide him open shots off of kick outs from dribble penetration or as the result of a series of screens.
What I'm waiting for is the FIBA America Live Tour, when CSKA and some of these other teams come to the NBA during their offseason and play four games in five nights under NBA rules--actually, I'm being sarcastic. What I'd really like to see is the NBA and FIBA adopt one universal set of rules and then have some NBA and FIBA teams play under those rules when all of the teams are equally prepared. I think that the FIBA teams play a wonderful brand of basketball but the NBA game is great, too, and I think that point is getting lost in the flurry of U.S. losses in FIBA competitions for which Team USA does not properly prepare and glorified exhibition games that the FIBA teams are treating like the seventh game of the NBA Finals. At least Coach Krzyzewski knew what he was signing up for when he went to the FIBA World Championships; I doubt that Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy, 76ers Coach Maurice Cheeks and the rest of the NBA coaches who are on Tour will be sending thank you cards to David Stern. It is great to promote the internationalization of basketball but in my opinion Stern is devaluing his own product by showcasing NBA teams when they have just started their training camps and having them travel halfway around the world to play with unfamiliar rules. The FIBA World Championship was a legitimate challenge for which Team USA must prepare better in future years but there is no way that NBA teams that are just beginning their training camps could be ready for this Tour. It will be interesting to see how the Spurs do on Sunday versus Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the very best Euro League teams. The Spurs--with top FIBA players such as Ginobili, and Parker--and the Suns--with Coach Mike D'Antoni's familiarity with FIBA play--seem to be better equipped to handle the Tour than the 76ers or Clippers.
Despite the final score, the CSKA-Clippers game started out as a competitive matchup, with CSKA only leading by one at the end of the first period, 21-20. CSKA shot 4-14 on two pointers, 4-4 from the free throw line and 3-9 on three pointers, while the Clippers shot 7-13, 6-7 and 0-2 respectively from those distances. The Clippers took a 24-23 lead early in the second quarter but Langdon started a 6-0 CSKA run by nailing a deep two pointer after coming off of two baseline screens. Then Brand hit two free throws and Cuttino Mobley hit a runner to pull the Clippers to within one, 29-28. Papaloukas countered with a three point play, the beginning of a 23-11 run to close out the quarter. CSKA's 52-39 halftime lead was the product of numerous defensive breakdowns by the Clippers plus poor shot selection, particularly by Cassell and Mobley, who shot one of the wildest three pointers ever captured on film.
A glance at the halftime statistics is very revealing: rebounds were even (21 each), two point field goal shooting was even (14-31 each) and free throw shooting was almost a wash (11-13 for the Clippers, 9-14 for CSKA); the big differences were three point shooting (5-11 for CSKA, 0-5 for the Clippers) and, to a lesser extent, turnovers (11 for the Clippers, 8 for CSKA as both teams were a little sloppy with the ball at times).
CSKA blew the game open early in the third quarter when Langdon hit two consecutive uncontested three pointers, pushing the lead to 61-45. Later, the Clippers made a token 7-0 run to cut the lead to 65-52 but by the end of the third quarter CSKA was up 73-57 and they maintained a double digit lead the rest of the way.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:48 AM