Mehmet Okur had the game of his life on Wednesday and Efes Pilsen needed every precious point of it in order to post its first Group F victory, 85-89, at one of the Euroleague's toughest courts, that of Ural Great in Perm, Russia. Okur played huge in the first and fourth quarters to finish with a season-high 30 points, more than making up for the unexpected absence of his team's high scorer all season, guard Marcus Brown. Saulius Stombergas did the rest, hitting 6 of 6 free throws down the stretch when Ural furiously attempted to send the game to overtime. Stombergas finished with 18 points for the winners, Kaspars Kambala 16 and Omer Onan 12. Efes put on a three-point shooting blitz, making 12 of 23 attempts from downtown (52.1%), as Okur, Stombergas, Onan and Alper Yilmaz dropped three each from long range. For Ural, Panagiotis Liadelis tallied 27 points, all but 2 in the second half. Mikhail Mikhailov had 12 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks for Ural. Vasili Karasev and Ruslan Avleev added 11 points, Anthony Bowie 10. The victory lifted Efes to 1-2 in the standings as Ural fell to the same record, leaving its 7,500 fans wondering if it can get back in the Final Four hunt with just three games left.
Efes got off to just the start a visitor needs in Perm, and considering that Brown wasn't on the floor, from just the right people. Okur opened the show with a three-pointer while pouring in the game's first 6 points. After Valeri Daineko and Mikhailov scored inside for Ural, Onan nailed his own three-pointer for Efes. Then Okur stepped back and hit another from downtown, and like that it was 6-12, Efes ahead. Karasev answered for Ural, but Okur soared to 12 points with another three-pointer as the lead hit 9-15. Liadelis and Avleev now joined the scoring for Ural, however, and when Karasev made another shot, this time a two-pointer, Ural was back within 13-15. Kambala then reared up and put through 4 points for Efes, and it took Sergei Panov's first basket for Ural to keep the home team within 15-19 after 10 minutes.
Panov picked up where he left off to start the second quarter with two more baskets that allowed Ural to forge a 25-25 tie. But Stombergas had already picked up his first three-pointer, and when his second dropped through a minute later, Efes was back ahead 25-29. Okur added a bucket and Alper Yilmaz yet another three, Efes was fully in charge again at 29-37. Liadelis, Avleev and Daineko were stuck on 2 points each for Ural, but Karasev was able to put down 4 free throws to pull his team within 33-37. But here was Yilmaz again, drilling one from behind the arc. That was enough to push the visitors to halftime with a 35-41 edge to work with.
Ural made its move after the break, bursting out on a 15-6 run over five minutes to take its first worthwhile lead of the game at 53-47. Seven of those points came from Liadelis. Okur was quiet, but Onan popped an important three-pointer and then Kambala stepped up for his third basket of the quarter to draw Efes back within 52-51. Ural tried to pull away again, but in the final couple minutes of the third quarter, Okur returned with 5 points, including a three-point play inside to keep his team on Ural's heels, 61-60 after 30 minutes.
Okur and Liadelis traded baskets to start the final quarter before Yilmaz raised and hit from deep for a 63-65 Efes lead. Okur was over 20 points, but he was not satisfied yet, adding a pair of new baskets and getting to the line for more points. When Onan dropped a long-range three, pushing past the 35-minute mark, Efes had its biggest lead since halftime, 68-74. Liadelis answered in kind, however, to make it 71-74, and from there the two teams went at it like warriors. Okur got two more before Daineko's three-pointer made it 74-76 with 3:30 to play. Mikhailov hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it 75-76, tantalizingly close for the home team. With 2:03 remaining, however, it was Okur again with the basket and the foul and a 75-79 Efes edge. Liadelis added two foul shots, but now Mikhailov missed a pair for Ural, letting Stombergas hit his first pair of free throws to make it 77-81 with 1:27 to go. Within seconds, however, Liadelis was at the line and trimming the deficit to 80-81. Stombergas got two more tries, and nailed 'em, before Daineko missed a three-pointer, and Mikhailov made only 1 of 2 free throws when fouled on the rebound. It was 81-83, and Efes went inside to Kambala for a big two points with 26 seconds left. In the final 20 seconds, Anthony Bowie made 1 of 2 free throws for Ural, Stombergas made both of his at the other end for an 82-87 scoreboard. Bowie tried to save things with a three-pointer with 7 seconds remaining, but Ural could only foul Stombergas, and he didn't miss this time either, giving the Turks an 85-89 upset that could never have been expected without Brown in the lineup.
Wednesday, March 20, 2002