In just the fourth week of the regular season, an epic game was played Wednesday in Istanbul, where visiting Barcelona held up through two overtimes to outlast Efes Pilsen 91-92 in a Group A showdown that won't be forgotten soon by either side. It was a classic game with a classic individual performance, 41 points scored by Efes center Kaspars Kambala, the most scored in the Euroleague in two years. But in the end, it was free throws that mattered most, as Kaya Peker missed a pair for Efes, while Juan Carlos Navarro of Barcelona made both of his to win the game with 5 seconds left in the second overtime. Sarunas Jasikevicius led the winners with 17 points, while Gregor Fucka and Dejan Bodiroga came right behind with 16 each, Navarro had 15 and Roberto Dueñas added 12. For Efes, Kambala was just huge during almost the whole 50 minutes, making 18 of 28 two-pointers, most of them in the paint against Barca giants Dueñas and Patrick Femerling, and 5 of 10 free throws the few times he got fouled. He added 11 rebounds for a double-double. Marcus Brown put up 17 more points for Efes and Jurica Golemac 12. Just the same, it was the second consecutive loss for Efes, which falls to 2-2, while Barcelona stays at the top of Group A with a 4-0 record.
Two players who were in doubt due to injuries, Tunceri and Bodiroga, were out there for the opening tipoff, after which the home side led 4-0 by going to Kambala right from the start. Efes was expected to rely on its speedy and Barcelona its height advantage, but things did not work out that way in the first period. Efes mostly had inside scoring by Kambala, who would dominate the quarter with 11 points, while the Barcelona shooters Juan Carlos Navarro, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Dejan Bodiroga did well from outside to keep the visitors ahead consistently. Their lead hit 5 points at 15-20 on a three-pointer by Navarro near the end of the quarter, but Efes was able to score the last 4 points to pull within 19-20 before it ended.
Early in the second quarter, Barcelona took the best lead of the first half when Nacho Rodriguez nailed a three-pointer from the right corner to make it 23-30. But the Efes defense tightened enough to change the game, holding the Spanish giants to just 2 points for the next 6 minutes. Ender Arslan, Asim Pars and Alper Yilmaz spearheaded that effort, and when Yilmaz swished his own triple less than 3 minutes before the half, the lead had been cut to a single point, 31-32. Brown then drove to give Efes the lead again, 33-32. Barcelona broke its offensive silence with a Bodiroga free throw to tie before an inside shot by Gregor Fucka put the visitors ahead again, 33-35, after 30 minutes. Kambala was up to 17 points already, while Navarro and Jasikevicius had 8 each for Barcelona.
The battle just kept brewing in the third quarter, and the protagonists were the same, headed mostly by Kambala, who was facing down might Barcelona at every turn. Working the paint like few can say they have against any Barcelona team, the second-year center from Latvia added 12 points to his total in the 10 minutes after halftime, which served to keep Efes in the game. That's because Barcelona had Bodiroga and Fucka both scoring, too, and when Roberto Dueñas made a tip-in at the end of the period, the visitors still led, 50-54.
In the fourth period for the home side, Brown was the catalys, stealing balls and scoring during an 11-2 run that suddenly boost Efes into the lead by 5 points, 61-56. But experienced Barcelona immediately took measures to stop the Efes attack, and by the time Bodiroga fed Dueñas inside for a basket, the differance was reduced to 61-60. Dueñas then gave Barca back the lead, 61-62, with another insider, but more importantly, put the brakes on Kambala, however briefly, in an important juncture of the game. Barcelona's run reached 0-11 in the span of 3 minutes as 5 straight points by Bodiroga, a three-pointer and a shot from the lane, put the visitors up 61-67 with just over 3 minutes left in regulation time. But Efes refused to die, even after a Jasikevicius triple fell through for a seven-point Barcelona lead. In quick succession, however, Tunceri drove for 2, Antonio Granger popped for three and Kambala scored again inside to tie the game with a minute left. The Turkish fans held their breath with Fucka at the line, but he missed, and then kambala made 1 of 2 as Efes went ahead with 22 seconds left, 71-70. Then, Jasikevicius was fouled attempting a game-winning three by Yilmaz with 5.8 seconds remaining. As expected, he made all three to put the visitors up 71-73. But Tunceri drove the length of the court for a layup to tie it, 73-73 with 1.1 second left, sending it to the first overtime.
In that first overtime, Jurica Golemac gave Efes a quick edge of 4 points, at 77-73, then Granger added a point to it with a free throw. AFter a pair of foul shots by Fucka, howwever, a Golemac turnover allowed Jasikevicius to equal the score again with a three-pointer from the left side: 78 - 78. Then Dueñas's inside basket gave the lead again to Barça, 78-80, but no lead would be safe in this game as Efes rallied to tie it 82-82 and force 5 more minutes.
Now, in the second overtime, both teams seemed tired. The youngest of the players, Navarro, put Barcelona ahead with 5 points while Golemac fouled out after giving his team the lead at 91-89. With 48 seconds left, Fucka made 1 of 2 free throws, to cut the deficit to 91-90. Next, Rodriguez fouled Kaya Peker, who missed both of his chances. Granger fouled Navarro with 5 seconds left and he did not miss. Both of them fell, and Barcelona won 91-92 to stay undefeated, the hard way.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul