Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is not only one of the most popular players in the FIBA Europe League (he is number 1 in voting for the All-Star Day), he is also one of the most lethal. His 14-point fourth quarter performance lifted Ural Great to a 100:94 win in the opening game of their play-off series with fellow Russian side BC Khimki.
Khimki welcomed back their own star from injury, guard Vassili Karassev and he was able to make an immediate impact on the game. He combined with Alexander Petrenko and Mikhail Soloviev to spark Khimiki to a 6:20 lead after just 5 minutes of the opening quarter.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Ruslan Avleev answered for the home side, but Khimki stayed ahead and led 22:29 at the end of the quarter.
Khimki retained their momentum in the 2nd quarter and although Ural Great fought back, they could not reduce the points defecit to less than 5. The visiting side also proved resilient after halftime as they survived a 17-point barrage from Ural Great duo Ksistof Lavrinovic and Zakhar Pashutin to take a 70:72 lead into the final 10 minutes.
Just as his coaching staff had no doubt hoped, Rauf was the game's deciding factor as he hit all of his shots in the 4th quarter. Ural Great were energised by his performance and they not only came back but roared into a 9-point lead. Khimki refused to give up and fought back to within 6, but Ural Great draw first blood in the series.
Karassev finished the game with 16 points, 9 assists and 5 steals before fouling out. He was well supported by Petrenko and Soloviev who scored 26 and 24 points respectively.
Abdul-Rauf finished as the game MVP with a season high 29 points. Ural Great will also be very encouraged by the performance of Avleev who had 18 points and 10 rebounds, statistically his best game yet in the FEL.
Sergei Belov, Head Coach Ural Great Perm:
"All play-off games are absolutely different from those played in the regular championship. Everybody, including the coaches, should have a strong motivation. Despite of having a terrible start I’m glad, that my team found back in the game. This first victory was most important for us."
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Ural Grat Perm:
"We had a very slow start in the game. We cannot afford this anymore. Fortunately we pushed the ball and this I would say was our big asset. Khimki is a very good team and we have to use all our power to win against them in the play-offs."
Sergey Eelevich, Head Coach BC Khimki:
"We met Ural before. As we played against them in the national championship. We tried to avoid our misstakes of the previous games, but Abdul-Rauf showed an outstanding performance tonight. It was actually him who stopped us and brought the victory to the hosts."
Mikhail Soloviev, BC Khimki:
"In the first two quarters we played like our coach told us to do. But in the third period we got more and more tired. And furthermore our opponents went better and better. Abdul-Rauf showed what he is able to do and proved why he was such a good player in the NBA."
Russia has contributed 3 of the 4 top teams in the Qualifying Round of the FIBA Europe League this season. The 4th is BC Khimki and unlike their compatriots, they were not able to win their group. Instead they finished 4th in Group B at 6:6 and their reward is a match-up with Group C winners Ural Great.
Ural Great and BC Khimiki are relatively experienced when it comes to European club competiton. Ural played in the first round of the 2000 Korac Cup. Khimki have twice played in the Korac Cup and last year took part in the Champions Cup, where they made it to the Pan European phase before bowing out.
Khimki’s Vassili Karassev is one of the FEL’s most experience players and has 6 European Championships to his name, as well as numerous EuroLeague apperances with former club CSKA Moscow. He will nee to be at his best against the Ural Great backcourt tandem of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Sergey Chikalkin if his side are to have any hope of victory.
If Khimki are to have any chance against Ural Great, they must somehow neutralise their offensive threat. Ural Great have proved to me one of the most prolific clubs in the FEL and have scored 89.5 points per contest. They are particulary lethal from long range where they have hit an astounding 47.3% of their three-pointers, easily the best among all teams.