Bologna, Italy earned its nickname, Basket City, once again on Wednesday by hosting another classic thriller that put Skipper on the brink of the Final Four after Gianluca Basile drilled a three-pointer with 2 seconds left to beat Efes Pilsen 76-75 in Group E. With that shot, Skipper jumped into the group lead at 4-1, needing only to win next week at Pau-Orthez to take the ticket to Tel Aviv. Broken-hearted Efes, which would have qualified if Basile's shot had missed, drops to 3-2, needing a win next week and a Skipper defeat to advance. Efes had won the first game with Skipper by 2 points in Istanbul, so would advance by a single point's difference if they finish with tie records. Skipper trailed much of the game on Wednesday, but stayed close enough to tie in the final minute. Skipper then chose to foul with 8 seconds left, letting Antonio Granger put Efes ahead with 2 free throws. Basile then dribbled the length of the court, stopped and drilled the game-winner. Basile led Skipper with 21 points, including 6 of 10 triples. Carlos Delfino added 15 points, Milos Vujanic and Hanno Mottola bagged 12 apiece and Matjaz Smodis posted 11. For Efes, Trajan Langdon had a floor-high 24 points, Antonio Granger added 18 and Ender Arslan posted 12.
The game started with an early triple by Mottola but then Skipper suffered a four-minute scoring drought as Efes climbed ahead 3-7 thanks to a Granger triple and Kerem Tunceri feeding Goran Nikolic in the paint. Defense was the theme right away as Mottola blocked a shot at one end and Granger copied him at the other. Mottola finally put in more points for the hosts, after which Vujanic on a fastbreak tied the score at 7-7. Neither team could be especially efficient in offense and Vujanic hit the layup for 11-12 to keep Skipper going. Efes was dominating the rebounds 6-11 but despite a great basket by Ermal Kuqoq, Delfino stepped up to leave the hosts on top by 13-14 after 10 minutes.
A classy jumper by Granger off a pick-and-roll opened the second quarter, but Delfino replied with a triple that tied things again, 16-16. Arslan replied with his own three-ball to punish a Skipper double-team. Efes was moving the ball fast and accurate on offense, while its zone held Skipper to 2-of-10 three-point shooting thusfar. Then, Langdon got started, and didn't stop until he had 9 points in a row to earn Efes a double-digit lead at 22-33. Basile and Delfino tried to counter-balance Langdon's scoring, but it wasn't easy. Still, Basile kept Skipper close, at 30-34, with a three-point play and a triple among his 9 points in the quarter. Delfino scored on the shot-clock buzzer for 32-35 but Kuqo appeared for a put-back on the last play for a 32-37 Efes advantage at the break.
Tunceri joined the Efes attack to start of the second half for 32-39, but Mottola answered with a three-point play. Granger was seeing stiff defense, so Langdon was still in charge of scoring for Efes, scoring triples in the face of defenders. Basile never let Skipper slide, however, and his basket plus 2 Mottola free throws cut the deficit to 40-44. Vujanic soon tied the game on a fastberak feed from Delfino, but Efes's defense only tightened, alternating zone and man-to-man and smothering the hosts for minutes at a time. The visitors' problem was that if Langdon didn't score, its own baskets were rather scarce, too. Skipper seemed to lack a decisive edge as it tied several times without surging ahead. Triples by Arslan and Granger seemed to leave Efes in the driver's seat as Efes ended the third quarter up by 55-60.
The decisive quarter started out exciting as Skipper quickly erased the deficit on a three-point play by Smodis that struck a 60-60 balance. Next, Gianmarco Pozzecco nailed his only points with a spectacular three that for a new lead, 63-60, that Paladozza greeted with a roar. However, Kaya Peker stepped up to save Efes with 6 straight points that put the visitors in charge again at 63-66. But now that it was so close, Skipper would not let it go, and Smodis hit a key triple to keep up hope at 66-66. When Arslan hit a fast jumper for 68-70, Smodis was there again to hit a layup and tie again, 70-70. A new Basile triple, his fifth, followed with exactly 1 minute to go, putting Skipper up 73-70. The pressure was huge but Langdon didn't seem to notice as he answered with a monster triple that silenced Paladozza and tied the scoreboard, 73-73. Next, the Efes defense forced Basile to shoot desperately, and miss, from downtown. With 8 seconds to go, after a timeout, Skipper chose to foul Granger, who hit both attempts to give his team one foot in the Final Four with a 73-75 lead. But in a matter of a few more seconds, Basile dribbled the length of the court in search of the triple, which he found at the top of the arc. He shot, and to the delirium of the Paladozza crowd, he connected with the bottom of the net, perhaps changing the Final Four fate of both teams in the same moment.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004