With both defenses turned on high heat Wednesday in Istanbul, Efes Pilsen won the Top 16's first game 68-62 in Group D over a Cibona VIP that was much different than the team's played in the regular season. It was a far cry from the 34-point loss Cibona suffered little more than a month ago, but the result still stayed in Istanbul, with Efes able to start the Top 16 1-0 while Cibona is 0-1. Cibona's improved defense this time did not prevent Efes aces Kaspars Kambala and Marcus Brown from getting their points. The hosts saw right from the first minutes that their best option was Kambala down low, and he obliged with a game-high 25 points, followed on the heels by Brown with 24. But it was the defense of Efes that ruled the day, especially in the paint, forcing crucial turnovers whenever Cibona came close. Zoran Planinic was the high scorer for the visitors 14 points and Slaven Rimac contributed 13.
The quality of the game was not the best in the first period while both sides struggled to score. Against the aggressive man-to-man defense of Cibona, Efes was only able to score 4 points in the first 7 minutes. That was despite the fact that Efes had a 4-0 lead after 3 minutes on an inside basket by Kambala. But the Istanbul side then stopped scoring. Cibona's good defese yielded opportunities at the other end until Planinic's single point from the line gave the visitors a 4-7 lead in the sixth minute. Cibona extended that to a 0-9 run in with a basket from Andrej Stimac, but during the the last 3 minutes of the quarter, with Alper Yilmaz now in the lineup, Efes responded. Yilmaz's three-pointer in the last seconds closed a 7-2 Efes run with the scoreboard showing an 11-11 tie after 10 minutes.
The same mood of the game, a defensive wall of both sides, persisted in the second period, too. Efes kept going inside to Kambala, or drove that way with Brown, for its points, while Cibona did the same with Stimac and Marijan Mance. In minute 16, Kerem Tunceri's single free throw gave a 23-20 edge to Efes. Efes took control of the game then. Straight fastbreak points, ended by Kambala mostly, gave Efes a seven-point lead in the last 2 minutes. Then a last-second inside drive by Ender Arslan determined the first half score at 33-26 for the home team.
After resumption, Efes started the game better than in the first two quarters. Both sides kept playing aggressive defense while Efes' strengthened the lead up to 11 points, 47-36, in minute 28 with a free throw nailed by Kambala. Cibona also tried its hardest to catch Efes and the last-second free throw by Haris Mujezinovic reduced the gap to under 10 again, 49-41, after 30 minutes.
It was the same story in the last quarter, too. Efes only worked with Kambala, sending passes inside on every offensive attempt. The reason was that Cibona was defending well against Efes forwards Antonio Granger and Yilmaz, while also keeping the wraps on Tunceri. Rimac rose to hit a three-pointer in minute 32 that cut the difference to 7 points, 51-44. Soon, Matej Mamic finished a fastbreak to make it 55-49. Efes had foul trouble, as Kambala was called for his fourth and replaced by Asim Pars. Kambala came back on court in minute 38, just as Cibona reduced the difference to 4 points, 59-55, on an inside drive by Planinic. But Efes showed its experience in the remaining minutes of the game to secure the win by controlling the ball and giving it directly with Kambala again. The second-year center did the job yet again, and Efes walked off with its first Top 16 win.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003