By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Khimki Moscow traveled to Greece in order to face Olympiacos, as the team at the peak of the standings in Group F of the Euroleague Top 16 with a 4-1 record. The Russians had been exceptional at their home games, overpowering CSKA Moscow, Laboral Kutxa and Brose Baskets… with the latest victim of their supersonic offensive strength, being Zalgiris Kaunas.
If there was one thing that the Russian team needed to prove versus Olympiacos, was that it can keep that mojo on the road as well, in a difficult arena to play and against a seriously tough team. Truly, for 25 minutes, Khimki’s game was a thing of beauty. Via constant ball movement, sublime cooperations and exemplary spacing, coach Kurtinaitis’ players held a lead of 12 against their opponents, in the mid of the third quarter.
But it was then that the famous “die hard” spirit of Olympiacos started to make its appearance. Khimki’s threatening attack waves, began to crush on the rocks of the solid defense that the Reds erected on court. At the same moment, the Russian team failed to keep its own defensive concentration, becoming unable to stop the Reds from scoring with ease. Not only Khimki lost its lead but allowed its opponents to get ahead even with 15 points before the final 89 – 77.
While Tyrese Rice was the one that had the best overall performance for Khimki Moscow, with 14 points, 8 assists and only 1 turnover, he wasn’t happy neither with the result, neither with his own game. “I am a point guard. So it is my duty to respond when the other team changes its game. When I call the play and the system doesn’t work, it is up to myself to make something different, that the other team will not expect. Myself specifically should have changed some stuff. It something fails I should make the necessary switch to fix it”, he said to Eurohoops.net, taking a big part of the blame for his team’s defeat.
For more than two quarters, Khimki didn’t face any serious trouble against Olympiacos. “Indeed our first half was pretty good. Actually, I can say that the first 25 minutes were great. We controlled about… 80 percent of the aspects of the game, if I have to make a rough count“. And what happened then? “Then 5 minutes into the third period we had a little letdown. That really changed everything. They made some adjustments and started playing like never before in the game up until then”, said the American point guard.
When a team changes the way it behaves or it systems, it does so in order to confuse its opponent. But that was not the main problem for Khimki according to Tyrese Rice. “No, they did not confuse us. We had made our planning and knew that this was coming. we expected them to do things differently from one point on. But we didn’t react by responding through our game”.
The Russians’ output went from zenith to the nadir perhaps way too quickly, bringing the final negative result for the team. Tyrese Rice thinks that he and his teammates could keep some things from this game. “A match like this against Olympiacos teaches you have to play for 40 minutes. Not 25. You can’t win like that, especially against Olympiacos, here in Athens. This is an opportunity to realize what we did not do in the last 15 minutes of the game. And not repeat that stuff”, was the verdict of the American playmaker.
If improving is essential for everyone, it becomes of utmost importance for a team like Khimki Moscow that plays in two demanding competitions. The Euroleague and the VTB League. Of course, the 28 year old guard from Virginia, is perfectly aware of the challenges ahead. “Now we have to look forward now because we have some big games in front of us. On Monday we play against CSKA Moscow for the VTB and then we face Real Madrid for Euroleague. Tough games with strong opponents”.
But Tyrese Rice has proven time and again that he thrives on every single challenge. He has learned what it needs to be done, especially after the turning point of his career: The Milan Final Four where he was crowned MVP after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to the title. “Such an achievement and such an experience changes everything. The way you see things is becoming so different. Your personal outlook on games is transformed. You re-think of what is good for yourself and your team and what might be bad for yourself and your team. You consider again what is right and what is not. With that group of guys back then, I saw so many things differently, and it brought me to where I am now”