With another intense performance before 12,000 of its fans in Istanbul, host Efes Pilsen pulled away to a 75-63 victory over Panathinaikos on Friday in Game 2 of their best-of-three series, forcing a decisive rematch to decide which of them will reach the Final Four. The third and final game between them will be in Athens next Thursday, April 14, with the winner advancing to Moscow to face defending champion Maccabi in the semifinals. In a defensive battle, point guard Will Solomon proved the difference for Efes, scoring 19 of his 24 points after halftime. Solomon had 6 steals and made 5 of 10 three-pointers, including a late one that dashed the hopes of Panathinaikos to sweep the series 48 hours after it had won the opening game in overtime back in Athens. Niksa Prkacin added 16 points for the winners, who outrebounded Panathinaikos 33-24 behind Kaya Peker's 9 boards, 9 points and 5 steals in 16 mnnutes. Jaka Lakovic led Panathinaikos with 20 points, while Patrick Femerling came off the bench for 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Panathinaikos seized the lead in the early minutes thanks to its defense and three-point shooting. Lakovic got the scoring started with a strike from the arc, then Dimitrios Papanikolau added his own for a 2-6 lead. Free throws by Henry Domercant plus inside shots by Nikolic and Ermal Kuqo tied it 6-6 before Lakovic struck again from downtown. Again, Efes tied on free throws, but Mike Batiste kept the visitors up with a dunk until Prkacin got going with a three-point play underneath, giving the home team its first lead, 12-11, and quickly adding another inside basket. Goran Nikolic's free throw made it a 6-0 run to a 15-11 lead for Efes, but Panathinaikos soon re-took the scoreboard on a triple by Fragiskos Alvertis just 15 seconds before the end of the quarter. That was enough time, however, for Solomon to respond with his own strike, letting Efes go ahead 18-16 after 10 minutes.
Efes kept boosting its lead with inside play and defense early in the second quarter. Prkacin got the first basket and Peker put in 2 free throws. Then Prkacin dropped behind the defense for a reverse layup and a 24-17 lead that forced a Panathinaikos timeout. The visitors had scored only a free throw in the previous 4 minutes, but now came out and turned things around. Dimitris Diamantidis drove for a layup, Lakovic made a jumper and Alvertis completed the comeback with his second triple from downtown, tying it up 24-24. Now it was the Panathinakos defense that ruled, but only until Domercant drove through it and brought down the house with a dunk. Panathinaikos responded by going inside to Femerling for an open layup and a pair of free throws to take back a 26-28 advantage. Lakovic got to the line, and Femerling again, boosting the Panathinaikos run to 2-15 and the lead to 26-32. Nikolic broke the drought for Efes with free throws, but that is all the hosts could manage before the break as Panathiniakos pulled in at halftime with a 28-32 advantage.
Solomon jump-started Efes with a three-point blast to open the second half, but Femerling reappeared with back-to-back baskets, including a dunk that provided the biggest Panathinaikos lead yet, 33-38. Prkacin and Peker, working inside, started Efes back. Panathinaikos was running into a defensive wall, but Efes was at least getting to the line, where Peker and Solomon hit 4 out of 5 to complete a 8-0 run to a 41-38 lead. With defenses not allowing any easy shots, the free throw parade continued with Kostas Tsartsaris, Lakovic and Lonny Baxter of Panathinaikos making 4 around just as many more from Solomon. But it was Solomon who broke the free throw wars with a big triple from the top of the circle, good for a 46-41 Efes lead. The free throws continued, with Efes getting the best of them due to Peker being fouled intentionally and he and Dusan Kecman making 3 in a single possession. The Nikolic stole a ball and Solomon sped away for a fastbreak layup that sent Efes ahead by 52-45 after 30 minutes.
Diamantidis gave Panathinaikos comeback ideas with a triple that started the final quarter by cutting the difference to 52-48. Prkacin responded for Efes with the next 3 points, but Lakovic also buried a three-pointer from the wing to show Panathinaikos wasn't done. Mustafa Abi helped Efes now with an acrobatic layup that made it 59-51. Then, after Diamantidis free throws, Solomon struck again, hitting a new triple as Lakovic fell down. But Lakovic got up and made a layup himself, then Diamantidis stole and assisted Alvertis on the break. Panathinaikos was within 62-57 now. A scoreless minute of fouls and turnovers passed before Lakovic got to the line and continued the Panathinaikos run with a free throw. Efes then got its first points in 3 minutes as Solomon assisted Peker on a fastbreak following a steal. Scepanovic then blasted what looked like a huge three-pointer to pull Panathinaikos within 64-61, but Ender Arslan went the other way and matched him on the next shot, then Kuqo went inside to up the Efes lead to 69-61. The key play came next, as Arslan's layup missed, but Peker got the rebound and found Solomon open on the arc. He raised up and dropped in his fifth triple to restore the biggest Efes lead since halftime, 72-63, before Arslan did the honors of adding another triple to finish it. Efes was going back to Athens with a lot of confidence.
Friday, April 8, 2005