What was supposed to be a showdown for third place in Group A turned into a huge blowout on Wednesday as Efes Pilsen charged back from the holiday break with a stunning 91-57 decision over visiting Cibona VIP. A 20-7 run to start the second quarter set the tone as Efes cruised to its biggest win of the season and avenged an earlier loss in Zagreb. Marcus Brown led a ton of Efes fastbreaks to pace the winners with 21 points. Kaspars Kambala added 16 and Antonio Granger 11, but it was the Efes team defense that starred most of the way. It held Cibona under 50 points until midway through the final quarter and let only one of the visitors reach double figures, Matej Mamic with 15 points. The result gives Efes a 6-4 record and drops Cibona to 5-5.
The long break from Euroleague action certainly did not hurt Efes. The hosts had a quick start to the game courtesy of Granger, whose 6 points pushed Efes to an 8-2 lead in under 3 minutes. Despite starting without injured power forward Jurica Golemac, Efes seemed to be stronger than Cibona under the boards, with the duo of Kaspars Kambala and Kaya Peker holding their ground underneath. Cibona center Dzevad Alihodzic did well to stop Kambala from scoring, but the Croatian couldn't get any points inside, either. With Cibona's defense pay attention inside, Brown stepped out and drained consecutive three-pointers to give Efes its highest lead yet, 19-11. In the final 2 minutes, however, Matej Mamic reappeared for Cibona with a couple baskets that kept the visitors as close as 21-17 after 10 minutes.
Efes came out even more aggressive in the second quarter, locking down Cibona's scorers such that the visitors only managed 5 points in 5 minutes. For Efes, however, the fastbreaks and easy baskets came one after another until a three-point basket-plus-foul by Kambala pushed the lead to 14 points, 36-22. After 4 minutes of silence, Cibona's first basket was scored by Slaven Rimac, but soon Golemac was dunking for a 41-24 Efes advantage. The lead kept climing. After another fastbreak layup by Brown, Cibona tried a zone defense that worked well enough, but on the offensive end, the visitors were still stuck. Cibona's turnovers resulted in fouls that prevented it from making a dent in the deficit. Then Granger returned in the final minute with a three-pointer to fix the lead at its highest, 48-25, just in time for the half.
The party continued at the same pace for Efes in the third quarter. Cibona's defense could do nothing to stop the home team's fastbreak, and within 3 minutes, Brown drove the lane for a layup that pushed the lead over 30 points, to 57-26. Continued lack of concentration on defense and mistakes on offense by Cibona made Efes's job easier and easier. Peker kept it going with a basket and foul shot at the end of the period, and now the lead was higher than ever at 33 points, 72-39, after 30 minutes.
The last period was an exercise in futility for Cibona and nothing but fun for the Efes fans. The Croatians could only watch as Kerem Tunceri scored on yet another drive to push the lead even higher, 76-39. Only now did Mamic and Stimac start to drop some shots, the former hitting a three-pointer to put Cibona past the half-century mark and knock the lead down to 30 points, 81-51. The rest of the game was just a matter of time, and when it was done, Efes had its biggest win of the season and a clear grip on third place in Group A with four games to go in the regular season.
Wednesday, January 8, 2003