Tau Ceramica held off a spirited Efes Pilsen comeback to retain at least second place in Group A after a 68-65 win on Wednesday at Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain. Tau led 66-61 with 2 minutes to go, but Cuneyt Erden and Drew Nicholas brough the visitors back. After a Zoran Planinic steal and basket that put the hosts up by 3 points, Nicholas missed twice from the line with 8 seconds remaining and Tau held on to improve to 3-1 in the group. Efes fell to 2-2. The win was Tau's 19th straight at home in the Euroleague. Luis Scola led the home team with 17 points, while Fred House came through with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 5 steals. Planinic dished 7 assists to go with his 8 points as Tau recorded 19 assists to 4 for Efes. Nicholas finished with 18 points against his former team, while Ermal Kuqo and Cenk Akyol added 11 apiece for Efes.
Nicholas took only a few seconds to show that he was familiar with the hoops in Vitoria, but that basket was nothing but an oasis in an offensive desert for Efes Pilsen. The visitors needed almost four minutes to score again, as Tau went on a 7-0 run via three pointers by Mirza Teletovic and a free throw from former Efes player Kaya Peker. Kuqo and Marcus Haislip came to the rescue with 5 quick points to tie it at 7-7 midway through the first period. Tau coach Velimir Perasovic decided to replace Peker with Scola as he looked for the answer on offense. The change worked fine as Tau took control, but poor shooting prevented the home team from opening a big margin. As a result, Efes stayed close and was able to tie the score at 15-15 on a pull-up jumper by Akyol at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started slowly until Scola and Planinic combined for 9 unanswered points to the delightof the local fans. That forced Efes coach Oktay Mahmuti to call an early timeout with Efes trailing 24-18. The break helped Efes slow down Tau's tempo and to remain within striking distance. A flagrant foul on Kaya Peker allowed Efes to get within 29-25 on free throws by Kuqo with three minutes left in the half. The hosts reacted quickly and switched to a full-court pressure. House nailed a couple of free throws while Scola earned three the hard way to raise the margin to 34-25. Then Igor Rakocevic gave Tau its first double-digit margin a few seconds later. Nicholas hit from downtown to reduce the gap, but Rakocevic copied him from the same distance to reach the intermission with Tau leading 39-28.
Both teams showed looked to pick up the pace after the intermission, but these good intentions lasted only for the first three minutes, until the defenses adjusted once again. Tau remained slightly ahead thanks to Scola's moves in the low post, while Efes found Kuqo and Nikola Prkacin to keep within 48-40 at the midway point in the third period. The visitors continued to attack inside, exploiting their physical advantage over the Tau frontcourt. Kerem Gonlum's bank shot was followed by a triple from Nicholas, bringing Efes within 3. Peker, House and tougher defense came to the rescue for the hosts after Perasovic timeout as Tau increased its lead to 52-45. But a technical foul called on Pablo Prigioni turned into three points for Efes, as Tau seemed to lose its mind on the next calls from the referees. The visitors kept adding points from the charity stripe as the third quarter ended with a short margin for Tau, 56-51.
Akyol reduced the gap even more with a right handed layup, but Prigioni kept hosts calm with a three for a 59-53 lead. Tau retained a slim 61-56 margin with six minutes to go, even though Efes was scoring from the free-throw line only. Tau's full-court pressure was choking Efes's offense, but the hosts couldn't find ways to score at the other end. Tau went inside to Peker and Scola, while the visitors played on Erden and Nicholas outside as they remained within striking distance at 66-61 with two minutes to go. Nicholas hit a jumper to reduce the gap and then Erden capped a steal with a layup to bring Efes 66-65 with one minute remaining. Prigioni missed a triple, but Planinic got in the way of an Efes fastbreak and scored 2 key points for a 68-65 lead with 28 seconds to go. Kuqo missed on next possession, but House was unable to hit any of his shots from the free-throw line. Surprisingly, Nicholas also missed twice from the line with 8 seconds remaining and Tau held the ball as the last seconds ticked away for the victory.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006