Efes Pilsen showed its resilience in Group G and left a pre-season title favorite winless when it downed host Panathinaikos 73-76 on the road in Athens, Greece on Wednesday. Efes improved to 2-1, good for second place in the Group G standings, one victory behind undefeated leader Cibona. Panathinaikos, which tied for the best record at the end of the regular season, dropped to 0-3 and is in a dramatic situation now, likely needing to win its three remaining games for a chance to return to the quarterfinal playoffs. Antonio Granger was the man of the game for Efes, hitting 7 of 8 three-pointers for 27 points that . Nikola Prkacin had 16 points and Kaya Peker 15 for Efes. Mike Batiste had a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds for Panathinaikos, Fragiskos Alvertis had 13 points and Vassilis Spanoulis 12 for the Greens, who led 50-49 late in the third quarter. Granger hit back-to-back threes for a 51-56 Efes lead after 30 minutes and stroke twice from downtown to boost the guests' margin to 56-66 with 5 minutes to go. Panathinaikos rallied and a three by Lakovic tied the game at 71-71, but free throws by Prkacin, Peker and Cenk Akyol allowed Efes to escape with a key road win.
Dejan Tomasevic scored in the paint to get Panathinaikos started. The two teams then missed a pair of shots each, before Kaya Peker drilled 2 free throws. Two impressive dunks, by Nikos Hatzivrettas and Peker, respectively, marked the next possessions as Efes got infront 4-6. Panathinaikos tried to put the ball inside, while Efes was able to find the net both from the paint and the perimeter. Ender Arslan’s triple meant an 8-9 lead for Efes as he sought to show that his team's playmaking had not suffered unduly when regular starter Marco Popovic was injured before the Top 16. Arslan and Henry Domercant bore the point guard responsibilities with a lot of success as Efes stayed ahead at 9-11. However, Panathinaikos then built a quick 5-0 run thanks to a dunk by Batiste and a three-pointer by Kostas Tsartsaris that made it 14-11. Nikola Prkacin proved solid from the line for Efes, as the first quarter ended at 14-13 giving a signal of the low-scoring game that was to follow.
Prkacin connected with his familiar left-handed hook to spark a 0-6 Efes run to start the second quarter. Arslan and Granger added a jumper each to complete it and put the guests ahead 14-19. Batiste found the way to break that run, but soon Cenk Akyol nailed a triple to keep the momentum going for the visitors. Panathinaikos pushed the ball and found an easy fastbreak dunk for Tsartsaris to make it 18-22. Granger was hot from the perimeter, but Vlado Scepanovic answerd for Panathinaikos as the scoreboard stood at 20-25. As Efes found solutions against the Panathinaikos defense, the hosts faced trouble creating easy opportunities. Only when Vassilis Spanoulis scored a basket-plus-free throw and Tomasevic tipped in a miss did the Greens come as close as 25-27 and forced an Efes timeout. Tomasevic became the man to tie the game, too, at 27-27 points, before Spanoulis put Panathinaikos in front by capping a 9-0 run. However, Granger stepped up again for Efes to pop his third triple as the guests kept their nerve and retook a 29-32 lead. Scepanovic fired back with a three-point bomb to tie, but at the other end he committed the foul that allowed Prkacin to score a basket-plus-free throw to put Efes ahead at 32-35 after 20 minutes.
Peker scored inside and Domercant outside, hitting the sixth three-pointer in 10 attempts for Efes to get the second half going.. But, Panathinaikos also found the net from behind the arc as Scepanovic and Alvertis unloaded to make it 38-40. When Batiste tied it with a jumper from the corner, the fans went wild. Immediately, however, Prkacin calmed Efes by scoring 4 consecutive points at 40-44. Panathinaikos answered with Batiste and Dimitris Diamantidis keeping up a fascinating point-by-point battle that had been roaring since the opening tipoff. Both teams had already reached the foul bonus, and considering the tough defense being played, it was no wonder that the scoring moved to the foul line. Kerem Gonlum and Arslan missed free throw opportunities, but Diamantidis did not as Panathinaikos moved in front, 46-45. Prkacin again connected for Efes, but Alvertis answered back with another triple for a 51-49 Panathinaikos lead. Efes changed its defense to zone and stole the ball. Then, the key point of the game came as Granger silenced the crowd with a big three-pointer and returned before the quarter ended to pop from the arc again, giving Efes a 0-7 run and a 51-56 lead after 30 minutes.
Granger remained hot and increased not only that run, but also Panathinaikos’s nervousness, to start the final quarter. Spanoulis drove and connected for the hosts, and Batiste found easy points from the line, but Panathinaikos was still down 55-58. Granger really was in the zone as he added another three-pointer; his sixth in seven attempts so far, at 55-61. He didn't wait long for his seventh triple, either, which combined with a jumper by Peker gave Efes a double-digit margin for the first time, 56-66, with 6 mintues left. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic called timeout and ordered a full-court press that let Panathinaikos quickly cut the difference 62-66 after Spanoulis scored 4 points. After a free throw by Prkacin, Diamantidis stole and finished a drive to make it 64-67. Prkacin's put-back of an offensive rebound and free throws by Peker let Efes breathe again at 64-71, just 2 minutes before the end, but the Greens weren't done. Alvertis found the courage to nail a great three-pointer, before Spanoulis hit 1 of 2 free throws. When the second one missed, Diamantidis took the rebound and passed to Lakovic on the arc. After missing his previous 9 shots, Lakovic buried this triple for a 71-71 tie. Prkacin again calmed Efes with 2 perfect free throws, and Lakovic tried again to be the hero, but his three-pointer went off target. Peker increased the difference with another free throw at 71-74 and Alvertis got a pair of his own at the line before Cenk Aykol did the same for Efes. That left Panathinaikos with one shot, a game-tying triple attempt by Diamantidis that missed, sending Efes to second place in Group G and Panathinaikos, winless, to last.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006