The first showdown of 2004 in the Euroleague saw Efes Pilsen storm to a 74-65 victory over visiting Tau Ceramica in Group C on Wednesday. With his team behind 62-65 with under 4 minutes to play, Trajan Langdon landed the triple that ignited a 12-0 closing run to the victory that keeps Efes in first place at 6-2. Injury-depleted Tau, held 23 points below its scoring average by the Efes defense, slides to the middle of the pack at 4-4. Langdon dominated in the first and fourth quarters and led Efes with 19 points. Antonio Granger scored 14 points, while Kaya Peker had 13, Goran Nikolic 11 and Ender Arslan 10 plus 9 assists. Tau, which was without Andres Nocioni and Tiago Splitter, was led by Luis Scola's 18 points and 9 rebounds, while Jose Calderon had 14 points and Kornel David put up 13 points and 12 rebounds. Efes shot just 3 for 16 from long range but clinched the game thanks to tough defense that allowed Tau just 5 points over the last 7 minutes of the fourth quarter.
David opened the scoring in the first quarter with a single free throw, which turned out to be a sign that it would be a difficult game for scorers on both sides. After Tau took an early 9-12 lead following Jose Calderon's three-pointer and free throws, Efes came back. Trajan Langdon gave the hosts their first lead at 13-12 in the seventh minute of action. David scored his fifth point of the quarter on a jump shot that gave Tau back the lead, but Efes used a 6-0 run to grab go ahead for the remainder of the quarter and finished the first 10 minutes of action with a 17-14 advantage. Langdon had the hot hand early for the hosts, scoring 8 first-quarter points.
Efes started the second quarter with a spectacular dunk by Ermal Kuqo, which pushed their lead to 19-14. Langdon picked up where he left off in the first quarter with 2 free throws that gave Efes a 21-14 advantage. But the lead would not be extended any further, as Efes missed a series of shots against a tough Tau defense. The guests got back into the game behind Luis Scola, who entered at the beginning of the quarter and poured in 6 points in just 3 minute. Tau eventually leveled the score at 24-24 on Scola's layup in the 16th minute. Moments later, Tau grabbed a 25-28 lead on two free throws from Macijauskas. Peker responded with a dunk for Efes but Tau jumped ahead 27-29 after a free throw by David. Efes halted Tau's march in the final minute of the second quarter by stringing together baskets from Peker and Granger, whose layup put the hosts ahead 33-31 at halftime.
To start the third quarter, Macijauskas hit 3 more free throws, giving the lead back to Tau, 33-34. Sergi Vidal then scored a layup for Tau, and though Efes got a basket from Granger, Calderon drilled a three-pointer to give Tau its biggest lead of the game at 35-39. The guests had found more success when they changed to a zone defense to slow Efes down. Offensively, Scola and David went to work for Tau around the basket and after Scola's lay-up in the 28th minute, the guests held a 47-50 advantage. The teams exchanged turnovers and fouls over the final 2 minutes of the quarter, but Tau maintained its slight lead when Pablo Prigioni answered Kaya Peker's free throws. After 30 minutes, Tau had the two-point lead now, 49-51.
In the last quarter, Efes picked up their effort and seemed much more aggressive in defense and hard working in offense, while Tau tried to slow the tempo of the game. Tau held its lead for the first few minutes but ultimately caved in to the Efes pressure. Calderon hit a very critical three pointer at the 33-minute mark to strentghen the Tau lead to 5 points, 55 - 60. Then Efes stopped Tau scoring for more than 3 minutes and went on a 5-0 partial that tied the score at 60 - 60 in the 35th minute. Calderon hit another three-pointer to give Tau back the lead, 60 - 63. Langdon returned to his earlier form, however, and took over offensively. His three-pointer in the 37th minute evened the game again at 65 - 65. Langdon then gave the lead back to Efes with 2 free throws and soon the hosts controlled the match, not letting Tau score the rest of the way to claim a key victory in Group C.
Wednesday, January 7, 2004