In a battle for sole possession of second place in their group, Efes Pilsen outlasted Real Madrid 74-70 at home in Istanbul on Thursday thanks to inside scoring dominance and great defense. Efes raised its record to 4-1 in Group, sitting just behind undefeated leader Climamio Bologna, while Real Madrid's first road loss dropped it to 3-2. Efes got 22 points from one big man, Kaya Peker, and 20 from another, Ermal Kuqo, to control the paint on the offensive end. Willie Solomon chipped in 12 points for the winners and Henry Domercant 11, while Mustafa Abi's only 4 points were on clutch baskets in the final minutes. Louis Bullock led Madrid with 21 points, while Antonis Fotsis added 11 and Mickael Gelabele 10. The visitors absolutely dominated in rebounds, 18 to 34, but suffered 23 turnovers due in part to the aggressive Efes defense.
Efes promised defense and delivered in the opening quarter, holding Madrid to a single basket for 5 minutes. In that time, Kuqo put in 4 points, Peker and Domercant 3 each to send the hosts running to a 10-2 lead. Madrid was also suffering foul trouble that saw starting center Patrick Burke sent to the bench. Nonetheless, Madrid slowed the Efes charge by finding answers on defense, mainly by pressuring the ball. On offense, Felipe Reyes got to guests going with a three-point play, then Bullock started reaching the foul line. By minute 7, Madrid had reduced the difference to 12-9. Kuqo took over again for Efes, however, hitting three consecutive inside baskets to make it 18-11. Madrid finished the quarter where it spent most of it, at the free throw line, but Efes held an 18-13 lead after 10 minutes.
In the second quarter came Madrid's turn to stop Efes again. The hosts went without a point for more than 3 minutes as Madrid captured its first lead, 18-19, on a layup by Bennett in minute 13. Aggressive man-to-man defense, supported by double teams inside, helped the visitors keep Efes away from the basket while Bennett added a triple and Alberto Herreros a fastbreak layup for a 20-24 Madrid lead. One Efes player changed things, however. Peker scored 3 consecutive baskets to keep the hosts close until Domercant connected on a jumper to tie, 26-26. Mickael Gelabele soon boosted Madrid with 4 points in a row, but Kuqo returned to work the post for 2 baskets down the stretch that let Efes cling to a 35-34 halftime lead.
Efes came out after the break and took charge again with a 6-0 run on baskets by Peker, Willie Solomon and Domercant. Suddenly down by 41-34, Madrid got a big triple from Moustapha Sonko, but Peker, Kuqo and Alper Yilmaz pushed the lead to 49-41 and soon Solomon struck from downtown for a 52-43 Efes lead. Madrid needed a lifeline and got one from its defense as Fotsis and Gelabele combined on 6 unanswered points to reduce the difference to 52-49. Ender Arslan added a free throw so that Efes could finish the third quarter ahead 53-49.
Madrid completed its comeback with a 0-5 run to open the final quarter and take a 53-54 lead. Fotsis supplied a three-pointer and Moustapha Sonko the go-ahead basket inside. But the Efes defense returned to make a stand again. Madrid managed just a free throw in the next 3 minutes as Peker scored 5 points in a 9-1 run to a solid new lead, 62 - 55. But Madrid wasn't giving up. Gelabale scored before Bullock threw in back-to-back baskets in a 0-6 response for the guests. After Peker and Bullock exchanged another basket each, the lead was still at the minimum, 64-63, when reserve Mustafa Abi stepped up for a key role in the victory, driving to the basket for a pair of layups that gave Efes a 68-64 cushion. Solomon and Peker, who couldn't make a free throw earlier, added insurance points from the foul line as the fans celebrated an important Efes victory as time ran out.
Thursday, December 2, 2004
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul