A return to suffocating defense made Efes Pilsen a winner again in Group C as it thoroughly dominated still-winless Olympiacos 57-69 in Athens on Thursday. Efes is now 3-1 and joines Idea Slask Wroclaw in second place behind undefeated Pamesa Valencia. In its debut under new boss Dragan Sakota, Olympiacos fell to a precarious 0-4 even though it is still early in the season. Antonio Granger and Goran Nikolic led the winners with 14 points each, while Trajan Langdon and Ermal Kuqo added 10 apiece. Efes just blasted Olympiacos under the glass, with a rebounding advantage of 25-44. Kaya Peker had 11 of those rebounds and Granger 9. Olympiacos shot 33.3% on two-pointers for the night and saw its big men practically non-existent on offense. Giorgios Diamantopoulos led the Reds with 12 points and Boris Gorenc added 11.
With basketball legend Larry Bird seated in the stands and receiving a standing ovation from the spectators, Olympiacos tried to change its face and style of playing. New coach Dragan Sakota surprised people by using three perimeter players at the starting lineup - Christos Harissis, Giorgos Diamantopoulos and Panagiotis Liadelis - but this plan took time to work the way the Reds expected. Although Efes took a 2-5 lead, Olympiacos tried to create fastbreak opportunities and made a 7-2 run to lead 9-7. Ender Arslan ended the fun for the hosts, however, hitting another big three-pointer for 9-10. Trajan Langdon and Antonio Granger performed great in defense on Liadelis and Diamantopoulos and the visitors managed to close the first quarter 3 points ahead, 13-16.
To begin the second period, Efes dominated in an impressive way under the boards and at the same time continued to play outstanding defense both at the perimeter and in the paint. Despite the changes made by Sakota, who decided to give time now to Branko Milisavljevic, Giorgos Giannouzakos and Boris Gorence, Olympiacos didn't react effectively. With good balance, nice passing game and good offensive options, Efes built an eight-point margin, 19-27, after 15 minutes on a three-pointer by Ermal Kuqo. Liadelis answered for 22-27, but the visitors continued to control the game and to keep their margin. The Reds were hitting some shots, however. Gorenc sank a three pointer for 28-33 and Milisavljevic followed with his own to cut the gap to 31-35 with 15 seconds left in the quarter. The last word belonged to Granger, who put back Arslan's miss at the buzzer to preserve a six-point lead, 31-37, for Efes at the break.
Returnig from the locker rooms, Efes coach Oktay Mahmuti was very happy to watch his players not only keep the margin, but increase it. Langdon, the so-called "Alaskan Assasin", bagged 5 points in less than a minute and Efes soared to a double-digit margin, 31-44, after 22 minutes. Olympiacos was also being outrebounded by the visitors by more than double and now needed a player to spark some sort of change in the game's momentum. The Turks took advantage of Olympiacos turnovers to run and make open shots as the Reds arrived late on defense. Langdon hit a big three, Goran Nikolic added 4 consecutive points and Efes opened the margin to 16 points, 35-51, after 25 minutes. The guests were threatening to finish the game earlier than expected, but Olympiacos now tried to play some defense and run itself, which got the Reds a 7-0 run to within 42-51. Nikola Prkacin scored the last basket of the third period, however, to put Efes up by double digits again, 42-53.
Very little changed during the last period of the game. Olympiacos continued to be struggle on both ends. Sakota tried a zone defense, but Granger punished it with 2 consecutive three-pointers to establish a clear superiority for his team. With 4 minutes left still, Efes soared to 47-61 and the fans of Olympiacos showed their respect by applauding the guests without hesitation. Efes had been controlling the game all the way and finally registered a deserved 57-69 victory. It marked the first time that Olympiacos lost to Efes Pilsen since February, 1995, ending a four-game winning streak in Athens and Istanbul for the Reds.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Vassilis Skountis, Athens