The first sensation took place in the VTB United League regular championship. One of the favorites of the championship, Zenit lost to Astana with a score of 69:83. Petersburgers, who gathered this season, perhaps the strongest squad in their history, completely failed long throws. On the other hand, the Kazakh team with sniper shots was more than fine – almost 60% of their long-range attempts reached targets.
Matches in which opponents as different in level as Zenit and Astana are encountered are automatically categorized as those that find it difficult to attract any significant public interest. Everything seems clear even before the starting whistle. And in relation to the meeting between Zenit and Astana, the feeling of the predetermined outcome seemed more than justified. On the one hand, the Russian club, which is struggling to get the right to wear the “super” prefix. The club that has gathered the strongest, probably, the composition in its history and is led by the most experienced Xavi Pascual. The club, which has already earned a reputation for itself in the Euroleague, where Zenit entered the playoffs last season, and almost beat Barcelona there. On the other hand, Astana, whose reputation of being a strong middle peasant was dealt a powerful blow last season: the Kazakh club finished penultimate in the regular season. Plus, Astana experienced a change of coach in the offseason. Emil Rajkovic, who was named the best coach of the league in 2019, moved to Avtodor, and another Serbian specialist, Darko Russo, took his place. For the latter, the meeting with Zenit was his debut in the VTB United League. And on the transfer market “Astana” behaved very modestly.
So even when the guests, by the end of the first quarter, achieved a ten-point lead, it was very difficult to get rid of the feeling that nothing good in this confrontation would shine for them anyway.
Well, it happens that a team starts to hit two out of three long-range shots! But how long can this last? So, the segment when Astana, thanks to the efforts of Maxim Marchuk, Jaylen Burford, Mark Tikhonenko, hit from a distance, and Zenit’s snipers (the main one, Billy Baron, missed the match, having got time to rest) got anywhere, just not in the ring, was not taken seriously. Moreover, already in the second ten minutes, Zenit, having begun to flirt with Alex Poytress, seemed to unambiguously showed who was in charge here. The hosts won the quarter with an advantage of 15 points, having won back the deficit that arose at the end of the first segment with a margin and went to rest in a good mood.
Then Xavi Pascual will tell you that during the break everything seemed to be fine. He will tell how he analyzed the opponent’s game with the team, and notes that his players, as he thought, understood everything.
“But at the beginning of the third quarter,“ Astana ”made a breakthrough, and we went mistake after mistake. We had no motivation. I don’t understand why, ”Pascual wondered.
Something unusual was really happening with Zenit. Not only that, the team did not manage long-range shots. It may not have been that important anymore. “Zenith” could well go further and without the normal percentage of three-point hits, using their superiority in the game under the shields. But a new misfortune has come – losses at the most inopportune moments. And then another one. Javi Pascual called this “lack of spirit and energy.” As a result, the defeat that Zenit suffered in the third ten minutes (11:26) was followed by some feverish attempts to save the game. And it seemed even something was hatching. Either Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Jordan Loyd, or Dmitry Kulagin tried to take over the game, but it was all in a step forward – two back mode.
And for the guests, who played almost the entire match, using by and large only seven players, against this background, everything worked as before. They finished the game with an excellent rate of 57% of long-range shots, Burford became the most productive player of the match (24 points), Anthony Hickey added nine more assists to 15 points. As a result, Astana deservedly won with a score of 83:69.