After trailing much of the game on the road to a team that had already beat it three times this season, Efes Pilsen rallied to make the Quarterfinals Playoffs from Group G of the Top 16 by downing Cibona 77-84 in front of a sellout crowd in Zagreb, Croatia on Wednesday. Since Panathinaikos also defeated Benetton Treviso 81-70 in Athens, all Group G teams finished the Top 16 tied with 3-3 records. Panathinaikos (+28) was first and Efes Pilsen (-1) second due to their better overall points differential in this group, as Benetton was third (-12) and Cibona fourth (-15). Henry Domercant led the winners with 23 points on 7 of 7 free throws. Antonio Granger added 15, Niksa Prkacin had 13, Ender Arslan 11 while Kerem Gonlum grabbed 11 rebounds for Efes. Scoonie Penn led Cibona with 23 points, Chris Warren added 15, Damir Rancic had 13 while Bennett Davison posted a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds for the hosts. Penn had 11 points in a 14-5 opening run for Cibona, but Efes cut its deficit to 25-20 after 10 minutes and then again to 39-37 at halftime. Baris Ermis became the unexpected factor for Efes, as he managed to slow Penn in crunch time while hitting back-to-back triples in a 4-16 run that sealed the win in the final period.
Penn got Cibona going strong with a three-pointer from the left wing and then added another bomb from downtown for a 6-1 lead. Efes struggled to score early until Ermal Kuqo stepped up woth a floating layup, but a red-hot Penn buried his third triple in as many minutes to keep Cibona in charge, 10-3. Domercant tried to change things with a tough jumper, but a technical foul on Kaya Peker allowed Penn to score free throws which Skelin followed with a dunk for a 14-5 Cibona margin. Arslan stepped up with a seven-meter triple while Granger scored in penetration and soon added one from downtown to bring Efes within 16-13. Davison scored around the basket while Rancic hit 3 free throws to keep Cibona out of trouble, 21-13. Domercant came off a screen to bury a jumper while Kuqo scored in the paint, but Warren ran the court to score off a steal which Davison followed with a fast break dunk. Granger capped the first period with a nine-meter fallaway jumper for a 25-20 Efes deficit after 10 minutes.
Granger stayed hot with a driving layup early in the second quarter which Gonlum followed with another close basket which made it a one-point game, 25-24. Warren rescued Cibona with a jumper but Prkacin answered with free throws. Penn also hit 2 from the foul line, as the game turned into a physical battle. Jurica Zuza nailed a short jumper, forcing Efes to call timeout at 31-26. Gonlum took over with a fallaway jumper which Davor Kus erased with free throws. Prkacin and Zuza exchanged layups, as Cibona called timeout to adjust its defense. Efes switched to zone defense but its shooters stayed off-target. Marin Rozic shined with a fast break dunk but Granger answered from downtown and Domercant added a layup to keep Efes close, 37-35. Gonlum capped a 0-7 run with tip-in which tied the game, 37-37. Penn hit free throws to put Cibona back in charge, 39-37, at halftime.
Both teams struggled to score after the break for 2 long minutes until Domercant buried a three to give Efes its first lead of the game, 39-40. Warren answered from downtown but Arslan quickly answered with a layup-plus-foul to keep the guests in charge, 42-43. Penn came to the rescue and ran the length of the court to get a three-point play, good for a 45-43 lead. Warren shined with a second-chance basket which Granger erased with free throws. Penn kept pacing Cibona with a big triple to which he followed with a fallaway jumper to make it a seven-point game, 52-45. Efes called timeout and Prkacin tried to change things with 3 of 4 free throws, also using Baris Ermis one-on-one against Penn. Domercant stepped up with a basket-plus-foul which Prkacin followed with a jump hook to put Efes back in charge, 52-53, after a 0-8 run. Penn fed Kus for a corner three which gave Cibona a 55-53 edge at the end of the third quarter.
Prkacin started the final period with a layup which Domercant followed with a fast break layup for a 55-57 Efes edge. Rancic took over with a huge fallaway jumper which tied it again, 57-57. Ermis slashed for a layup while a very active Gonlum scored in the paint to force a Cibona timeout, 57-61. Ermis stayed on fire with a three-pointer to boost the guests' margin to 57-64, after a 2-11 run. Kus stepped up with a driving layup but Ermis - who else? - answered from downtown and Prkacin scored in the low post to give Efes a double-digit lead, 59-69. Davison scored inside for Cibona but Domercant matched it with free throws and nailed a triple for a 62-74 Efes margin. Arslan also nailed one from downtown to seal the outcome, 64-77, with 3 minutes to go. Cibona kept trying short possessions and quick shots, as Warren followed Davison's layup with a triple, but it happened to be too little, too late for the hosts, who had a bitter end to its otherwise fantastic Euroleague season.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006