Efes Pilsen did what it had to despite high nerves and low scoring when it outlasted visiting Idea Slask Wroclaw 63-51 on Wednesday to at least retain part of fourth place in its race for the Top 16 in Group A. The victory lifted Efes to 6-5 while it awaited the result of Olympiakos-Unicaja Malaga later Wednesday. Efes and Unicaja were tied 5-5 entering the week and will meet in the next game on Jan. 30. With this win, at least, Efes does not have its back against the wall going to Malaga. The Turkish fans, who had suffered through two rare last-minute home losses recently, have Kaspars Kambala to thank for that happy circumstance. With points at a premium all night, the rookie power forward popped for a floor-high 23 to go with 8 rebounds. Marcus Brown added 17 for the winners. For Wroclaw (2-9), Michael Wright had 14 points and Michael Hawkins 12.
In the first quarter, both teams seemed in control as the score was even throughout, with the big men for both Efes and Wroclaw working well inside, producing the majority of the points. Efes took a three-point lead in the eighth minute with a basket by Brown that made it 14-11. The quarter finished with Efes having a slim 15-13 lead as the defenses enjoyed the better results on both ends of the floor. Kambala was the high scorer of the first period with 7 points for Efes, while Wright had hit 6 for Wroclaw. Perhaps unexpectedly, point guard Kerem Tunceri entered the game halfway through the period for Efes after missing one match due to a foot injury.
Efes seemed a little stressed due to the big local expectations for the game, but the substitution of Mehmet Okur with young center Kaya Peker proved beneficial. Efes' fastbreaks were punctuated by baskets by Peker as he helped build a 10-point lead at 25-15. The home team's perfect man-to-man defense held Wroclaw to just two baskets over six minutes, but the four remaining minutes proved to be enough for them to catch Efes as Maciej Zielinski, Rafal Bigus and Michael Hawkins all chipped away at the lead and cut it to 27-23. Efes however was able to finish the first half strongly, rattling off four straight points to enter the lockerrooms leading by eight, 31-23.
The bad shooting percentage of Wroclaw and Efes, 37% and 38% respectively, continued in the third period. Straight fastbreaks and a three-pointer (the first of the game) by Brown produced a 17-point lead for Efes halfway through the third at 43-26. Wroclaw's zone defense, starting from the 25th minute, stopped Efes and the Polish team managed to reduce the difference to 47-38 by the end of the quarter with a basket at the buzzer by Zielinski.
Now, in the final quarter, the return of Tunceri gave the home team a tremendous boost. The assists by the young guard helped Efes take a 16-point lead on a Kambala drive inside to make it 57-41. Efes kept the pressure up and never allowed their lead to drop below 10 for the remainder of the game.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul