Big games call for big performances, and Antonio Granger certainly had one when Efes needed it most. Granger popped 7 three-pointers while leading Efes to a 78-61 victory over Pau-Orthez in Istanbul on Wednesday. Efes rose to 3-1 with the win and will retain at least a share of first place in Group E while Pau falls to 1-3 and says goodbye to any Final Four chances. Granger's 7 triples tied a Top 16 record shared by four other players and gave him a floor-high 25 points. Efes also dominated the boards, 31-18, thanks in part to Goran Nikolic, who posted a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds. Trajan Langdon also added 11 points, while Kerem Tunceri had 7 of the winners' 21 assists. Pau's top scorer was center Mate Skelin with 19 points, while Dragan Lukovski added 12 and Laurent Foirest 11. Pau's rebounding troubles were evident by the fact that it pulled just 3 offensive boards the whole game.
The visitors from Pau started the game as expected, looking to be very aggressive on defense in order to control a game they needed desperately to win. Skelin had consecutive inside baskets, plus a foul shot that went with one of them, to put Pau in from 2-5 after a couple minutes. Efes was ready to react, however, as Nikolic and Niksa Prkacin got to the rim for inside layups and Granger nailed his first three-pointer for a 7-0 run to a 9-5 lead. Skelin was good for another basket before any of his Pau teammates scored, but it wasn't until Granger canned a second triple that Efes threatened to escape, at 16-11. That threat looked stronger when Trajan Langdon also hit from long-distance for a 21-13 local lead, but Foirest answered immedately from downtown and Cyril Julian added two late baskets to keep Pau close, at 24-20, after 10 minutes.
Pau's man-to-man defense looked tougher in the second quarter, allowing only an early three-pointer by Alper Yilmaz. Meanwhile, Foirest popped from long range again while Julian and Skelin scored 2 points each to tie the score, 27-27. Yilmaz broke the tie with 2 free throws and Granger returned with a triple that put Efes ahead 32-27. Skelin stopped a few scoreless minutes with a three-point play, but once again Granger raised up from deep and buried his fourth three-pointer to make it 37-30. Kaya Peker 's 5 points in a row, including a spectacular dunk, boosted the lead to 44-36, but now Lukovski dropped his second three-pointer. The last points of the half, a three-pointer by Aniekan Archibong of Pau, suddenly put the visitors within 44-42 going to the lockers.
After halftime, Efes showed its strongest side, the defensive wall that would hold Pau to 4 points for nearly 7 minutes into the third quarter. A pair of dunks by Prkacin sandwiched around Granger's fifth triple were the game-breaking series. They finished a 12-4 run that gave the hosts the game's first double-digit lead, 56-46, after 25 minutes. Skelin and Lukovski reacted with driving baskets for Pau, but this time, the Efes defense did not lapse at the end. Only 3 free throws went through the net in what remained of the quarter, but all were for Efes, which held a 59-50 lead after 30 minutes.
In case that was not enough, Granger now proved he was far from finished. Pau started the last quarter with a zone defense that Granger punished with twin shots from way downtown in less than 3 minutes. The lead was up to 67-52 and a panicked Pau was shooting early and missing, unable to penetrate the Efes defense, and sitting on just 10 points over the 14 minutes since halftime. Ermal Kuqo boosted the difference to 17 points and Efes, no doubt thinking of potential ties at the end of the round, kept adding to the lead. Peker's inside layup meant a high lead of 22 points, 78-56, with under 3 minutes left, but there the lead stopped as Pau scored the game's last points for a 78-61 final score.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004