Pau-Orthez gave itself a fighter's chance to make the Top 16 when it closed the regular season in style on Wednesday, topping Efes Pilsen on the road in Istanbul 69-71 on Dragan Lukovski buzzer-beating jumper from the corner. Pau's third win in a row allowed it to finish its Group A campaign in sixth place at 6-8. Now, Pau must wait for Thursday's results to know the future. It will need at least three teams to lose - Montepaschi, Zalgiris and Adecco Asvel - in order to possibly reach the Top 16 as the best sixth-place team across the three groups. Efes concludes the regular season at 8-6 and held onto third place only because Skipper lost in overtime at Cibona. Lukovski led the winners with 16 points, while Florent Fietrus added 13, his brother Mickael 11 and Rod Sellers 10. For Efes, Marcus Brown pumped in 30 points, Kaspars Kambala 12 and Kerem Tunceri 10.
Pau showed right away that it didn't want this to be its last Euroleague game this season, jumping out to a 2-6 lead on a jump shot by Lukovski. The visitors kept pushing out, but Efes didn't wait long to equal the score, as Kaya Peker made an inside basket to tie it up, 12-12, after 5 minutes. Pau was able to keep scoring consistently behind the hustle of Florent Pietrus, but Efes could say the same about Brown, whose outside shots were falling now. The hosts did not help themselves with 6 turnovers in the quarter, however, some of those the fruit of Pau's defensive quickness. That effort paid off one more time as Artur Drozdov got loose for a dunk in the final seconds to put Pau ahead 21-23 after 10 minutes.
Efes tried to seize control on its own floor in the second quarter by turning some missed shots by Pau into fastbreaks. The transition game was working good enough for Peker and Brown to push the Turkish champs to a high lead of 36-28 after 16 minutes. Pau needed a timeout to regroup, and coming out of that, things took a better turn for the French visitors. Boris Diaw-Riffiod got a basket inside and Frederic Faouthoux hit a big shot from the arc to drop that deficit to 36-33. And with under 2 minutes to play in the half, Florent Pietrus's inside basket levelled the score again, 36-36. Only a foul on Brown with 4 seconds to go in the half, and his 2 accurate free throws, allowed Efes to make it into the lockers with a lead, 38-36
Efes kept on controlling the game in the third period, too. Brown and Kerem Tunceri had consecutive baskets to help Efes nurse the lead, little by little. Pau also insisted on staying close, however, as both Florent Pietrus and Diaw were now scoring. But Efes was able to take its high lead to that point, 9 points, on a Tunceri triple in minute 28 that made it 58-49. Still, Pau refused to give up the fight and the guests were rewarded when Mickael Pietrus hit a three-pointer in the last second of the quarter to reduce the differance to 4 points, 58-54.
As such, the last period developed into a real fight between the two teams for the victory. Efes kept its small leads, but Pau always made the hosts feel its breath. Pau increased the pressure on Efes with aggressive defense to keep the game neck and neck. In the final minute, all the drama came to a crescendo. With 27 seconds left, a Diaw insider finally gave the lead back to Pau, 68-69. Tunceri made 1 of 2 foul shots with 19 seconds remaining to equal the score, 69-69. On Pau's final possession, Lukovski ended up with the ball in the far left corner, just inside the three-point line, and he let it go with three ticks on the clock. When it went through, Efes had no time left to respond, and Pau was getting ready for a long day of waiting to find out its fate.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul