Efes Pilsen took control of second place in Group B and got a little revenge, too, as it rallied to beat host Lietuvos Rytas 65-74 on the road in Vilnius, Lithuania on Wednesday. Efes Pilsen rallied from 18 points behind in the second quarter to improve to 8-4 in the Group B standings and avenge a 21-point home loss when the teams first met this season. L.Rytas, playing without floor general Roberts Stelmahers, dropped to 7-5. Marko Popovic took advantange of the absence of Stelmahers to lead the winners with 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He added 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists. Antonio Granger posted 17 points for the winners and Nikola Prkacin 11. Matt Nielsen was the only L.Rytas player to score in double digits, with 17 points that included 11 of 12 free throws. L.Rytas led 29-13 midway through the second quarter, but Efes cut the deficit to 35-28 by halftime and took a 47-48 edge after 30 minutes. Popovic sealed the win with 9 points in the final 2 minutes.
Both teams had a slow start of the game until Simas Jasaitis opened the scoring with a wild dunk off a pick-and-roll with Haris Mujezinovic. Popovic answered from downtown, but L.Rytas newcomer Maurice Baker - starting in place of the injured Stelmahers - slashed to register his first Euroleague points and put the hosts ahead 4-3. The pace stayed slow - just as Efes likes it - but that didn't prevent Fred House from hitting a three to which Mujezinovic added 3 of 4 free throws to give L. Rytas a 10-6 margin. Granger tried to change things with free throws, but Baker fed Jasaitis for an easy basket that Robertas Javtokas followed with a monster dunk for a 14-8 margin. Efes struggled to score even from the free throw line, while Tomas Delininkaitis and Nielsen came off the bench to hit consecutive jumpers from beyond the arc for L. Rytas to boost the difference to 18-11 after 10 minutes.
Nikola Prkacin and Kerem Gonlum got Efes going in the second quarter, the first scoring inside, the latter with a steal. Efes had switched to zone defense, but L.Rytas found a go-to guy in Nielsen, who hit 4 of 4 free throws to make it 22-13. The L.Rytas defense was still doing the job, allowing Efes just 13 points in the opening 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Mindaugas Lukauskis made free throws and added a three-pointer in an 11-0 run that widened the margin to 16 points, 29-13. Efes had been scoreless for 7 long minutes when Granger stepped up with a fastbreak dunk to which he added a basket-plus-free throw to bring Efes within 29-18. Baker scored off an inbound steal, but Efes had found its rhythm. To prove it, Cenk Akyol, Popovic and Granger scored consecutive triples before the break to reduce the L. Rytas lead to 35-28, half of what it was a few minutes earlier.
Nielsen started the the second half by forcing Kerem Gonlum's third foul and making both free throws. Javtokas picked up his fourth foul for L. Rytas and had to leave before Prkacin canned a jumper and Popovic stole drove for a basket. That made it 37-32 and forced an L. Rytas timeout that didn't help much as right after Granger buried a triple and Gonlum scored inside for a 37-37 tie. Efes had turned the game around with an 8-24 run in 8 minutes since late in the second quarter. Nielsen's jumper put L. Rytas ahead again, but not for long, as Efes took its first lead of the game, 39-40, on a massive dunk by Kaya Peker. Pavelas Cukinas soon dunked to regain the lead for L. Rytas, but the Efes rally continued as Ender Arslan hit a triple on the way to a 45-48 that Tomas Delininkaitis of L. Rytas was able to reduce to 47-48 before the end of three quarters..
Efes tried to take full control at the start of the final quarter, as Prkacin and Granger combined to make it 47-52. Jasaitis and Delininkaitis gave the hosts oxygen with a 54-54 tie, but L. Rytas would not see another lead. Granger drove strong to feed Prkacin for a dunk before Arslan penetrated twice and boosted the lead to 54-60. Sandis Buskevics stepped up with a triple for the hosts and, after an Efes timeout, House reduced the deficit to 59-60. But Prkacin rebuilt the Efes lead with free throws, to which Popovic added a strong driving basket to make 59-64. With under 2 minutes to go against the Efes defense, 5 points proved a lot. Nielsen missed a key free throw wiith 1:40 left, while Granger canned 2 of 2 at the other foul line for a 60-66 score. From there, Popovic made sure with 7 points in the last minute that Efes held onto an important road win.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006