CSKA took a giant step toward its fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four by opening the best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs with a hard-fought 66-57 victory over Efes Pilsen at home Moscow, Russia on Tuesday. CSKA has half of the two victories needed in the series to reach Final Four. The series moves to Istanbul on Thursday for Game 2. On a night when points were hard to come by, J.R. Holden led the winners with 19 of them, making 5 of 9 three-pointers, including one that sealed the win with under a minute to go. Trajan Langdon added 12 points, Matjaz Smodis barely missed a double-double with 11 and 9 rebounds while David Vanterpool had 10 for CSKA. Henry Domercant led all scorers with 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting for Efes. Ermal Kuqo added 12 points for the guests, who took their only lead of the game at 28-29 midway through the second quarter. CSKA regained the lead, 37-31, at halftime and boosted its margin to 55-41 with 8 minutes to go. However, Domercant and Kuqo fueled a 0-12 run that brought Efes within 55-53 with the ball and less than 3 minutes remaining. That's when Theodoros Papaloukas stole at midcourt and dunked, after which Holden's last triple settled the matter.
Smodis got the hosts going with a low-post basket before Holden nailed his first triple for a 5-0 CSKA lead. Efes went scoreless for almost 2 minuntes until Kuqo downed a jump hook. Both teams tried man-to-man defense with different pairings, as Ender Arslan guarded Vanterpool, who took on Domercant at the other end. Vanterpool added a long two-pointer for CSKA that Kuqo answered. Langdon and Domercant exchanged baskets, too, but when Holden got loose to bury his second and third triples, CSKA was suddenly in charge at 15-8. Arslan answered with a triple on the wing, the only shot Efes would hit, although the guests were drawing plenty fouls, including 2 already on Vanterpool. Smodis shined with a second-chance basket and a big block on Kuqo, allowing Langdon to throw down CSKA's fourth triple and boost the lead to 20-11. Antonio Granger and Langdon exchanged jumpers before a fastbreak layup by Theo Papaloukas made it 24-13 for the hosts and forced an Efes timeout. Kerem Gonlum came off the bench and immediately hit free throws, as Efes switched to zone defense that Tomas Van de Spiegel broke with a dunk in traffic. More free throws by Gonlum fixed the score at 26-17 after 10 minutes.
In the second quarter, Efes stuck with its zone defense to stop CSKA's outstanding 13-for-17 shooting accuracy in the first. When Domercant fired in his first triple, Efes was within 26-20. Smodis stepped up with his own deep two-point jumper, but Domercant copied him and kept Efes on the attack. The visitors switched on their man-to-man defense as Marko Popovic entered the game for his first minutes since getting injured in the regular season. Meanwhile, Domercant kept rolling with a smooth fake and open jumper that forced a CSKA timeout at 28-24. Vanterpool tried to post up Popovic, but CSKA kept struggling to score as the Efes defense was active in the passing lanes. Gonlum took Smodis one-on-one for a basket, and when CSKA tried a zone defense, Arslan hopped off the bench and immediately fired in a corner triple. That capped a 0-9 run and gave Efes its first lead, 28-29. After being held to 2 points in 7 minutes, CSKA got a jumper from Vanterpool that ignited a 7-0 run in which Holden followed free throws with a triple to seize control again for the hosts, at 35-29. Peker scored in the paint to end the Efes drought, but Vanterpool finished with free throws for a 37-31 CSKA lead at halftime.
To start the second half, Domercant finished a long Efes offense with a layup, but the guests would not score easily for some time after. Langdon answered with a jumper and Vanterpool, now at point as Holden played off-guard, also hit from outside. Granger fired in his first triple, but Vanterpool fed Savrasenko for a reverse layup, good for a 43-36 CSKA lead. Domercant drew Vanterpool's third foul and hit free throws but Papaloukas came off the bench and immediately delivered back-to-back layups, forcing an Efes timeout at 47-38. Outrebounded 18-8 until then, Efes kept struggling on offense, too, due to poor shot selection. Meanwhile, Smodis canned a shot from downtown for a 12-point CSKA lead, 50-38. Domercant finally got a basket for Efes, but CSKA kept ruling the boards. Tomas Van den Spiegel finished a long CSKA offense with a layup and then put a huge block on Niksa Prkacin. Kuqo rolled to the hoop to cut the difference to 52-41 after three quarters.
Efes needed a quick comeback and put Gonlum in to helps on rebounds to start the final quarter. CSKA threatened to run away, however as a three-pointer by Langdon made it 55-41 with 8 minutes left. But Efes suddenly revived. Kuqo scored around the basket and Domercant fired from downtown to cut the deficit to single digits, at 55-46. An unsportsmanlike foul on Sergei Panov allowed Domercant to get Efes even closer at 55-47. Gonlum kept locking up rebounds, while Kuqo kept the Efes comeback alive with a running jumper that Popovic followed with free throws to make it a four-point game, 55-51. When Domercant made free throws and CSKA missed, going over 5 minutes without any points, Efes had the ball and chance to tie. While Popovic brought the ball upcourt, however, Papaloukas stole from behind and raced for a dunk to make it 57-53 with 2 minutes to go. Holden sealed the win with his fifth three-pointer as CSKA moved within a single victory of reaching its fourth consecutive Euroleague Final Four!
Tuesday, April 4, 2006