Another big defensive effort pushed Efes to the forefront in Group C on Wednesday with a 79-68 victory at home in Istanbul against Alba Berlin. Efes is now 4-1 and has hold of at least a share of second place, while Alba again showed its competitiveness but nonetheless fell to 1-4. Antonio Granger was the go-to man for the winners with 21 points, 17 of them in the first half. The inside force for Efes was once again Kaya Peker, who posted a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Trajan Langdon added 13 points and Ender Arslan 11, including a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter. For Alba, Jovo Stanojevic was the big gun with 23 points and 8 rebounds. John Best had 12 points, mostly in the fourth quarter, while Marko Pesic and DeJuan Collins chipped in 11 each.
Efes started the game as it often does, by taking early control of the match from the very first possessions. Consecutive baskets by Kaya Peker put Efes ahead as the home team looked strong inside the paint. With both Peker and Antonio Granger scoring inside, Efes had a 16-10 lead after 7 minutes, but in what was left of the quarter, there was time enough for Alba to show off its own skills. The visitors' show was staged inside and out, as Stanojevic and Pesic combined to put in 15 points before the end of the quarter. Several of those came in a 2-8 run that forged the first tie of the game at 18-18 late in the quarter. Alba had equalled the rhythm of the match, and the fans in Istanbul thought the quarter would end tied, too. But then Alba guard Mithat Demirel appeared to give the lead to his team the lead with a last-second three-pointer for an 18-21 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
The second quarter was also high-paced for both sides, but now the teams no longer caught each other defensless with speedy fastbreaks. With Alper Yilmaz in for Trajan Langdon and Goran Nikolic for Kaya Peker, Efes became stronger in defense, and from there it was all Granger. If he had already showed Alba his abilities scoring inside, now the visitors were to get a dose of his shooting. Granger's 3 consecutive three-pointers catapulted Efes to the biggest lead of the game, 31-23, after 16 minutes. Alba, only able to score just 2 points in the first 6 minutes, 23 seconds of the quarter, tried after that to repeat its late effort from the first quarter, but now Efes was ready with better defensive measures. Alba could only score 9 points total for the quarter and Ender Arslan's basket-plus-free throw with 30 seconds left was sufficient for Efes to match its high lead by going to the locker room ahead 38-30. Granger already had 17 points for the hosts, while Stanojevic was up to 13 for Alba.
Efes had a very quick start to the third quarter, boosting the lead up to 16 points behind the inside-out combo of Peker and Granger. The latter scored 5 points before Peker added a layup to make it 47-32 in the 22nd minute. Soon, Trajan Langdon's three-pointer gave Efes its highest lead yet, 16 points at 52-36. Although it took some minutes, as at the beginning of the previous two quarters, Alba again recognized the tempo required and began to equal it. Pesic and DeJuan Collins drove to challenge the Efes big men and scored consecutive baskets. But Efes answered immediately with the succesfull fastbreak game. And of course, in defensive transtion, Efes was as effective as always, beating Alba down the floor to set up its defense and preserve the big lead in double-digits. Alba only got 6 points back from the high difference as Efes finished the quarter ahead 59-49.
Efes tried to keep control of the game and succeeded through 2 minutes of the final quarter. Then, however, Alba's silent man until then, John Best, drilled 2 straight three-pointers to suddenly reduce the difference to 7 points, 67-70, with more than 5 minutes remaining. The first 3 of those went by, however, without either team able to score other than a basket by Peker assisted by Granger. Otherwise, while Efes threw up misses and turned the ball over trying to use all of the 24-second clock, Alba proved unable to take advantage at its own offensive end. The drought ended and the game was decided when young guard Ender Arslan, in for injured starter Kerem Tunceri, buried three-pointer on the two-minute mark. On the next possession, Niksa Prkacin added a dunk for the Turks, and the 74-62 lead finally proved too much for Alba to handle with solittle time left.
Wednesday, December 3, 2003
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul