With nothing to win for but its home fans, Efes Pilsen on Wednesday rallied from 18 points behind in the second quarter to down visiting Unicaja 82-78 in Group D. As such, Efes finished second in the group at 4-2 but can rightly claim that it was among the best teams NOT to make it to the Final Four in Barcelona. That goes double for Wednesday's win because Efes not only came back from 18 points down, but did so without its starting backcourt, all-Euroleague candidate Marcus Brown and point guard Kerem Tunceri, both injured. In their absences, Omer Onan and Kaspars Kambala both scored 21 points to lead Efes, while Antonio Granger added 20. For Unicaja, Milan Gurovic led the way with 20 points, 13 of those in the first quarter, while Moustapha Sonko had 15 and Louis Bullock 12.
Unicaja controlled most of the first quarter, enough to lead by 11 points after 5 minutes. Efes had scoring trouble in the absence of Brown, while Gurovic started hot for Unicaja. His drive made it 0-6 while Efes waited more than 3 minutes for Kambala to score its first points. Still, a Gurovic basket plus foul shot made it 2-13 halfway through the quarter. Efes got more momentum by going inside to Kambala but Unicaja was still fastbreaking with regularity. Those layups boosted the lead to 15 points lead at the end of the first quarter, 14-29, on a final basket by Roger Esteller. Gurovic was up to 13 points by then, including 2 three-pointers.
To start the second period, Unicaja increased its lead to 18 points in 3 minutes as Stephane Risacher made a three-pointer from the sideline for 20-38. Efes tried to keep in the game with Peker, Antonio Granger and Kambala. After a couple of Unicaja turnovers, Omer Onan's three-point play reduced the differance to 10 points: 28-38. Efes took the control of the match then. Alper Yilmaz's three-pointer reduced the differance to 35-42. Still, But Louis Bullock and Gurovic did not let Efes catch them before the half ended on an Ender Arslan inside drive that pulled Efes within 38-47. Gurovic was up to 17 points for Unicaja, while Granger had 13 for Efes.
The Efes offense became more effective by the minute in the third quarter, while its defense had Unicaja struggling to find baskets. Within 4 minutes, Granger's inside drive cut the difference to 5 points, 44-49, and soon an inside basket by Onan made it 49-52. The Efes run reached 14-5 as a three-pointer by Granger tied it up 52-52. The 18-point deficit was gone, and with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in the third quarter, Onan's fastbreak gave Efes its first lead of the game, 54-52. Bullock answered with 5 straight points for a 54-57 Unicaja lead, ut an Onan three p-ointer with 8 seconds left tied it again, 57-57, after 30 minutes.
Efes had turned turned the game around with a zone defence based on a small lineup (Arslan, Onan, Granger and Yilmaz to Kambala), and it continued to use that formula in the final quarter. Unicaja continued making mistakes on offence and the turnovers helped Efes to get more fastbreaks. In the 32nd minute, Onan's foul points gave Efes an 8-0 run to a 65-57 lead. Kambala added a free throw before Bullock scored Unicaja's first point of the quarter, a fastbreak layup for 66-59. In the last minutes, Moustapha Sonko tried individually to reduce the diffrence for Unicaja. His three-pointer cut the deficit to just 2 points, 76-74, but Efes kept on controlling the game with tactical foul shots until winning 82-78.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul