Dynamo St Petersburg took a while to find their rhythm against BC Kyiv in Thursday's FIBA Europe League championship game but once they did, there was no stopping them.
David Blatt's team beat Kyiv 85-74 to capture the title in Istanbul.
|Kelly Mc Carty|
Marcus Norris' three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and then Andrii Lebediev's shot from beyond the arc at the start of the second gave the Ukrainian team their 10-point lead.
Lebediev's three sparked Dynamo into life, however.
A dunk by Vladimir Veremeenko off a feed by point guard Ed Cota started a 12-0 run for the Russian outfit that Kelly McCarty finished off with a layup for a 32-30 advantage.
A tap-in by former Argentinian international Marcelo Nicola off a missed lay-up by LaMarr Greer tied the game for Kyiv at 30-30, but McCarty, who would go on to score a game-high 24 points and earn Final Four MVP honours, came to the fore again.
Jon Stefansson missed a shot underneath the basket and McCarty was there to tap the ball in. A foul on the play by Edmunds Valeiko allowed him to go to the line and extend the advantage to 33-30.
The veteran Nicola showed his experience, receiving a pass from Norris and burying a three-pointer to the game one last time with 2:22 left before half-time.
Stefansson then gave his team the lead for good.
The Icelandic star's lay-up sparked a 10-0 run which bridged the second and third quarters for a 43-33 advantage, thus putting his team firmly in the driving seat.
"I think the way we played in the last two minutes of the first half was the key time in the game," said Blatt.
"We got an eight-point lead and suddenly the lead they had at the end of the first quarter was insignificant, they're saying to themselves, wait a minute we've played great and are down by eight points."
St Petersburg's defence was outstanding as they held Kyiv's Greer scoreless in the first half.
"We only gave up 33 points in the first half, that's a great job defensively," said Blatt.
"We focused on LaMarr Greer, we changed defenders on him throughout the game to wear him down and fatigue him some.
"He's an 18 point per game scorer, when you take that away completely it's gonna have an effect on a team because they're used to taking up a certain part of the offensive load.
"So that was really a big factor that we stopped him. I think that really affected them in the first half."
"We also did a great job defending the post. (Ioannis) Giannoulis is a very strong post player and early he was hurting us. Then we did a better job of denying the ball in there, forcing him to kick the ball out a little bit, taking away easy baskets."
Once St Petersburg established an advantage, they were able to consolidate their lead.
"We ran more," Blatt said. "We're a team that led the FIBA Europe League in scoring, our team is built around running.
"Once we got ourselves on track, pushed the ball and got some easy baskets, it helped us get the lead."
After their lead twice ballooned to 16 at the end of the third quarter, Kyiv fought back bravely, going on a 10-2 spurt of their own to close to within 71-64 three minutes into the final quarter.
Kyiv drew closer at 80-74 when Greer scored on a lay-up, but valuable time had been wasted as only 1:17 was left in the game.
Blatt decided to call a timeout to set his offence and when play resumed, Cota made a three-pointer with 1:04 left for an 83-74 St Petersburg advantage to all but end Kyiv's hopes.
"We made a big effort and cut the lead to six points, but I could see in the face of the players that they had no more energy," said BC Kyiv coach Renato Pasquali.
Despite the loss, Pasquali still had plenty to be happy about.
"I'm very proud of my team. Just looking at the whole experience of European competition, I would say that we did an excellent job."
"At the beginning of March, we played (2004 champions UNICS) Kazan at home in the regular season and if we would have lost, we were out of the play-offs.
"We beat them in overtime by two points, and after that we took second place in Europe. So the difference between a good and bad season is not that big."
Pasquali had nothing but praise for Dynamo.
"St Petersburg played excellent today," he said.
"At the end, I would say the biggest difference was they had better athletes. You could see that when you play two games in two days, the athleticism sometimes makes a difference."
Blatt saluted his stars, too.
"Kelly will be the first guy to tell you being MVP is not that important to him," Blatt said.
"Both of these guys (McCarty and Cota) are winners and the play for the team, sacrifice for other guys and they put the success of the whole in front of that of the individual. Ultimately those guys led us to the promised land, and credit to both of them."
Cota had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Serbo-Montenegrin center Ognjen Askrabic added 14 points and 11 rebounds for St Petersburg.
Nicola had 17 points and seven rebounds in a losing cause.
In the third place game earlier in the day, Khimki defeated Final Four hosts Fenerbahce 86-79.