Efes Pilsen took advantage of a golden opportunity to end the regular season where it had spent much of it, holding first place in Group B, after it won its last home game 76-61 over visiting Prokom Trefl Sopot on Thursday. Efes turned on its defense, won the second quarter 19-5 and never looked back. The victory gave Efes a 9-4 record, enough to take over first place after Lietuvos Rytas had beaten Maccabi Tel Aviv earlier in the evening. Prokom, meanwhile, fell to 4-9 and ever lower chances to make the Top 16. Efes got big-time leadership when it counted from Antonio Granger, who paced the winners with 27 points, including 5 three-pointers. He got backup from Henry Domercant and Marko Popovic, with 12 points each, and from Kaya Peker, with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Efes defense allowed only two Prokom scorers to reach double figures, Tomas Pacesas with 14 points and Christian Dalmau with 10, while Tomas Maciulis picked up 12 rebounds for the guests.
Prokom Trefl was successful starting the game with getting the ball inside to Michael Andersen, whose short jumper and dunk gave the visitors a quick 0-4 lead. Popovic soon tied it 4-4, but midway through the quarter, Christian Dalmau answered Henry Domercant's a three-pointer with one of his own to keep Prokom ahead 5-9. Efes tightened its defense then and used the rebounds to send Popovic on fastbreaks, one of which he finished with a triple. Eventually, Domercant’s free throws gave Efes its first lead, 14-13, but Andersen was soon back in action hitting his own shot from the line and another one inside to tie 16-16. Kerem Gonlum entered for Efes in the final minute and immediately made a tip-in to let the hosts lead 18-16 after one quarter.
Gonlum continued where he left off, scoring inside to start the second quarter by igniting an 8-0 Efes run. The other points in that blast came on a pair of triples by Antonio Granger that had Efes suddenly holding a double-digit edge, 26-16. A scoreless stretch followed until Andersen broke Prokom's silence with a huge dunk, his team's first points in 5 minutes. After a series of free throws, the lead was still double digits when Popovic added a triple to it and then Cenk Akyol another from the corner to make it 35-21. Granger had time to add free throws as Efes rolled to a 37-21 halftime advantage.
Prokom Trefl tried everything to catch Efes after Granger’s fastbreak layup gave the hosts their biggest lead yet, 39-21, to open the second half. Prokom responded with a flurry of 4 three-point shots in the span of 2 minutes - a pair by Tomas Pacesas and one each from Dalmau and Jeff Nordgaard - but the difference was only trimmed to 48-33 because Efes kept scoring, too. By the time Granger and Kaya Peker added to the lead during another Prokom scoreless span, the Efes lead was as high as ever, 55-35. Granger was unstoppable now, and would finish the quarter with a couple more three-pointers, giving him 14 of his team's 24 points after halftime and Efes a solid 61-40 advantage after 30 minutes.
Efes proved faster again in the final quarter, blasting off with a 5-0 start that included a monster dunk by Peker on a spectacular assist by Ender Arslan to boost the lead to 65-40. The rhythm of the game slowed then, and as Efes seemed more relaxed with its big lead, Prokom tried to cut it with a 2-13 run in which Jagodnik and Maciulis hit triples. Even when Pacesas continued with 5 points of his own, including a triple that made it 71-58 with 3 minutes left, Efes never appeared in danger. A scoreless minute followed that Granger ended with his fifth shot from the arc, making it clear that Group B had a new leader and its name is Efes Pilsen.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul