Efes Pilsen got the Top 16 off to exciting fashion in Group D by beating defending Euroleague Basketball champion Panathinaikos 74-64 on Wednesday night at the Abdi Ipecki Sports Hall in Istanbul, Turkey. Drew Nicholas scored 23 of his 29 points – equaling his career-best – in the first half as Efes took a 46-35 halftime lead and the hosts only added to that in the second half. Efes starts the Top 16 as the Group D co-leader with the winner of Thursday’s Montepaschi Siena vs Partizan Igokea game. Efes is at home again next week hosting Montepaschi, while Panathinaikos will try to bounce back from this loss at home against Partizan. Andre Hutson added 10 points for Efes, while Kerem Gonlum was instrumental with 9 points and 7 rebounds and reserve point guard Ender Arslan contributed 6 points and 5 assists. Mike Batiste and Sarunas Jasikevicius led Panathinaikos with 12 points apiece and Vassilis Spanoulis added 10. The Greens led 8-16 early, but Nicholas fired in three consecutive three-pointers to get Efes back. Still a layup by Andrija Zizic gave Panathinaikos a 17-21 lead after 10 minutes. Efes improved its defense, while Nicholas led a 16-4 run that Arslan capped with a layup for a 36-37 margin. Hutson allowed Efes to get a double-digit margin at halftime and Efes continued to excel in defense after the break, while Ermal Kuqo had 8 quick points to give the hosts a 65-48 margin early in the fourth quarter. Dimitis Diamantidis, Spanoulis and Batiste tried to get the Greens back in the game but all Efes fans were already celebrating a major home win.
Panathinaikos won the opening tip and scored the first basket though Zizic inside. The Greens proceeded to build a quick lead in the opening few minutes by getting 6 points from Sani Becirovic to go ahead 2-8. Nicholas pushed Efes to 8–10 midway through the period, but back-to-back Nikos Hatzivrettas three-pointers gave the Greek champs twice as many points as the hosts, 8-16. However Nicholas was just getting started. He fired in three straight triples in two minutes as Efes Pilsen took its first lead, 17-16, with two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the period. Demos Dikoudis made the sixth straight triple of the first quarter and then a Zizic layup determined the score at the end of the first quarter, 17-21 for Panathinaikos.
Loren Woods made the opening basket of the second quarter as Efes Pilsen started to rule the game. The home team’s match-up zone defense managed to stop Panathinaikos, while its rebounding led to fast-break opportunities. Gonlum’s tip-in extended the Efes lead to 3 points fort he first time. Panathinaikos struggled to score against the match-up zone and several turnovers helped the Istanbul side extend the lead. Nicholas remained on fire and rocketed in two more triples. Soon Woods and Arslan layups made the score 36-27 midway through the period. Batiste break the Panathinaikos silence, but Gonlum’s triple – his first ever in his 132nd Euroleague appearance – doubled the Efes lead to 39-29. With the support of the home fans cheering them on, Efes pushed the lead to 43-31 again thanks to Nicholas. Batiste kept the visitors standing in those last minutes, but Hutson’s jumper ended the first half at 46-35 for Efes.
Efes Pilsen enjoyed a great start to the third quarter as well. Scoonie Penn fed Kenny Gregory for a fine alley-oop and a little later Nicholas increased the lead to 15 points. Jasikevicius and Spanoulis tried to balance the game with their individual efforts, but the head coach David Blatt’s patented match-up zone kept the hosts’ lead in double figures for much of the period. Spanoulis brought Panathinaikos within 59-48, but a Kuqo layup followed by a buzzer-beating tip from Hutson ended the third quarter at 63-48 for Efes Pilsen.
Hutson threaded the needle with a brilliant pass to Kuqo, who despite a hard foul from Hatzvirettas, made 2 free throws to extend the lead even further. After Fragiskos Alvertis missed a triple, Arslan sliced through the Green defense to put the hosts up 19. Diamantidis wouldn’t let his team quit and through a three –pointer and then a drive that resulted in 2 free throws, gave his team some hope. Spanoulis matched Hutson’s baseline jumper with a drive for a basket, but again Hutson came though by drawing a foul and netting a free throw to push the lead to 70-56. After a few missed shots on both sides, it looked as if the players had accepted the outcome However a sudden spurt consisting of a Jasikevicius jumper and a Batiste slam in transition made it 70-60 with two minutes remaining. Hutson made sure to wrap things up with a smart blocked shot on a Jasikevicius attempt, which resulted in a Nicholas layup that allowed the hosts to enjoy a great start to the Top 16.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008