Efes Pilsen has started the second half of the regular season by keeping on the heels of the Group A leaders with a 74-62 home win against Alba that was much harder than the final score indicates. Alba was within 2 points of the lead with less than 4 minutes to play, but Efes embarked on a 15-5 run to finish the game with big man Kaspars Kambala again a catalyst. Kambala finished with 19 points to lead Efes, while Marcus Brown had 17 and Jurica Golemac 11. For Alba, Jovo Stanojevic tallied 19 and Quadre Lollis 17. The victory lifted Efes to a 5-3 record, one victory behind Group A co-leaders Benetton and Barcelona, both 6-2. Alba, meanwhile, fell to 3-5 and a tie for either fifth or sixth place, depending on later results.
Alba started the game concentrated on defense, no doubt with memories of the first game between the teams, a 21-point Efes road win in Berlin, as motivation. Alba tried to lock down the scoring duo of Marcus Brown and Antonio Granger with Stefano Garris and Jorg Lutcke, the latter just back from more than a month of injury. Quadre Lollis did a good job inside and helped his team stay close. Nonetheless, a dunk by Jurica Golemac put Efes in front 16-9 after almost 7 minutes and a Brown three-pointer added to that for a 21-13 lead for the hosts with a minute left in the quarter. The good news for Alba came in the form of a 4-0 run to finish the first period behind by only 21-17. That and the fact that Kevin Rankin had held Kambala to just 4 points so far.
Things were looking good for Efes as it started the second quarter on the run. It wasn't long before Ender Arslan capped an 8-3 run with a three-pointer from the left corner that gave the locals their highest lead yet, 29-20. But Efes got stopped in its tracks then. A combination of its own turnovers and Alba's defensive adjustments suddenly put Efes in a four-minute scoring drought. In the meantime, Alba ran off 8 unanswered points, with a dunk by Lollis punctuating the run and pulling the guests to within a single point, 31-30. That woke Efes up and Brown reignited his scoring to preserve a 35-32 lead for the home team at the half.
The Alba defense kept Efes struggling on offense early in the third period. With the defense working so well, Stanojevic and Garris helped Alba take over the scoreboard on the offensive end. Garris gave the visitors their first lead since the game started with a three-pionter for 37-38 at the 21-minute mark. A couple minutes later, Stanojevic and Lollis added free throws to push the lead to 5 points, 39-44. Efes went over 5 minutes of the quarter with only 4 points, until Alper Yilmaz climbed off the bench again to save the hosts. Yilmaz's defensive skills helped his team to recover its defense, while Kambala was more than happy to provide the offense. Efes took off on a 14-4 run that ended with a pair of Yilmaz free throws and a newfound, 53-48 lead for the hosts. It was Alba that suffered the drought now, but Lollis was able to get a basket before the third quarter ended with Efes showing a 53-50 edge on the scoreboard.
The tension showed on both teams in the beginning of the fourth quarter as defenses ordered to protect the basket bent without breaking. Each team could manage only 4 points during the first half of the quarter, and with 5 minutes left in the game, Efes held a 57-52 lead. Less than 4 minutes remained when a Stanojevic hook shot reduced the differance to 2 points, 59-57. But just when things looked bleakest, Efes started taking over again. Two straight fastbreak layups by Kambala and Golemac restored a six point lead. Then, with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left, a Kambala dunk made it 67-59. Yilmaz reappeared with a three-pointer with 40 seconds left that killed all Alba's hopes, then Kambala dunked an alley-oop pass to give the fans one last thrill, knowing that their team was one victory closer to the Top 16.
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul