A miracle shot ended a defensive thriller with AEK taking a 70-69 decision over visiting Efes Pilsen in Athens on Thursday to take sole possession of first place in Group G. Nikos Zisis fell down, got up and hit a turnaround three-pointer on the buzzer over two defenders to finish a heroic AEK comeback from 13 points behind late in the third quarter. AEK is now 2-0 in Group G while Efes fell to 1-1 and a tie for second place. Zisis led the winners with 22 points and dished 5 assists. Nikos Hatzis came next with 13 points, then Sandro Nicevic with 10. The only player who scored most of the night was Henry Domercant of Efes, whose 6 three-pointers among 29 points overall had the visitors in charge most of the way. AEK trailed by 13 points with 12 minutes left to play, before mounting a 16-1 run for its very first lead of the game midway through the final quarter. Efes took the lead back in the final minute on 3 free throws by Niksa Prkacin, but Zisis had time for one final shot that put AEK in the driver's seat in Group G.
Efes Pilsen fed the ball inside to big men Goran Nikolic and Ermal Kuqo for their team's first 6 points, while everyone else concentrated on defense. An early layup by Nikos Zisis had actually meant a 2-2 tie, but those were the last points by AEK for awhile. Consecutive jumpers in traffic by Domercant quickly lifted Efes ahead 2-10 as the visitors had hit all 5 of their shots. In contrast, AEK was 1-for-5 until Hatzis and Bailey cut the difference to 5-10. However, Kuqo and Domercant struck back, the latter with his first three-pointer, as Efes took its first double-digit lead, 5-15. Bailey responded with AEK's first strike from teh arc, and soon Hatzis was fouled trying the same and made all 3 free throws. But even when Zisis finished the quarter with a layup, AEK was still looking up at a 14-19 scoreboard in favor of Efes.
Kaya Peker came off the bench to score the only basket by either team in the first 4 minutes of the second quarter. The next two-pointer, a layup by Kuqo, put Efes ahead 15-23, as its defense had forced AEK into poor 4-for-18 shooting until then. AEK big men Lollis and Nicevic put together a pair of inside shots to keep the hosts within 19-25 after 16 minutes, but then Domercant unloaded his arsenal. He lined up a trio of three-pointers from the arc in the next 2 minutes, and by the time all of them had gone through, Efes had a big lead, 23-34, considering how well it's defense was playing. Lollis, with back-to-back shots inside, quickly cut the difference to 27-34, but it was evident after a parade of free throws that Efes was still in charge, up 30-39 at the half.
Domercant stayed hot as he mada a layup and free throw to start the third quarter by posting the highest lead yet, 31-43. AEK went to a three-guard lineup with Sotiris Nikolaidis, Zisis and Hatzis. That experiment worked fine until Zisis was injured. He nailed a triple to prevent Efes from running away, to which Giorgos Tsiaras soon added a basket to make it 45-37. Andreas Glyniadakis added a nice post move and Mihalis Pelekanos a fastbreak layup to cap a 9-0 run that brought AEK within 41-45. Then, however, Zissis had to leave the floor bleeding from the nose due to an elbow from Kaya Peker. Efes took advantage of his absence to shoot its way to another double-digit lead, 43-53, and even after Zisis returned, Domercant added his sixth three-pointer to make it 43-56 after 28 minutes. Glyniadakis in the paint, Zisis at the line and Pelekanos on a drive started AEK's comeback before the third quarter ended 49-56.
The rally continued with 2 huge fastbreak triples by Zisis and Hatzis early in the final quarter. Suddenly, the difference was only 55-57 and the home crowd was getting loud. Hatzis added another jumper to tie, 57-57, before Zisis did the honors of giving AEK its first lead of the game, 59-57, in minute 35. Peker ended AEK's 10-0 run to tie the score again, but soon Nicevic connected off the board. The teams exchanged a free throw each over the next couple minutes until Nicevic again found the basket for a 64-60 AEK lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds left. Ender Arslan erased most of that advantage when he was fouled on a triple attempt and made all 3 free throws. Zisis was ready with a triple from downtown on the shot-clock buzzer, making it 67-63, but Domercant answered him right back from the arc. With 16 seconds to go, Prkacin nailed his fourth pair of free throws to put Efes ahead again, 68-67. After Nicevic travelled, AEK looked done, but after it put Prkacin on the line again, and he made 1 of 2 free throws, 6 seconds still remained, and the score was 67-69 for Efes. Zisis took the ball from Hatzis, raced down the floor and lost his balance, but not control of the ball. He managed to get up from the floor, handle the ball and, with his back to the basket, turned around and fire in a miracle three-pointer on the buzze to win the game. Whether it also changes destinies in Group G remains to be seen.
Thursday, March 3, 2005