Kinder Bologna should not make any plans for the weekend of May 3 to 5. The defending champions all but assured themselves a trip to the Final Four on Thursday by fending off a brave upset attempt by visiting Efes Pilsen to take a 77-71 victory and an all but unassailable 4-0 lead in Group F. To qualify for the Final Four, Kinder needs only not to lose its next game, at home against Real Madrid, by more than 28 points. Efes made Kinder earn every bit of its now comfortable position, however, when it took a one-point lead on an Omer Onan three-pointer with under 4 minutes left. From that point on, Kinder outscored Efes 11-4 and gave the fans at Palamalaguti all the reason in the world to make their own Final Four plans for the first weekend in May. Matjaz Smodis came off the bench to lead Kinder with 24 points. Rashard Griffith added 15 for the winners, Antoine Rigaudeau 13 and Emanuel Ginobili 12. Kaspars Kambala almost willed Efes to a huge upset with 30 points. Mehmet Okur chipped in 15, but the Efes perimeter scorers, Onan and Marcus Brown, were limited to 9 each. At 1-3, Efes is now out of contention for the Final Four.
Both teams began the game pounding the ball down low and excellent play by the big men resulted in a close contest. For Efes, Kambala and Okur were both aggressive and effective down low. Early three-pointers by Okur and Brown were good signs, too, for the visitors and served to balance the offense in a way that kept Kinder's defense guessing. Kinder had its own problem with fouls, too, as Rashard Griffith was called for two quick ones. Fortunately for the hosts, Matjaz Smodis climbed off the bench and scored 6 points within 3 minutes of entering the game. After those early three-pointers by Efes, both teams went cold from the perimeter, and instead relied on free throws and putbacks, with neither side able to establish an edge before 10 minutes were up and the scoreboard showed a 15-15 tie.
In the second quarter, the battle continued to be waged near the basket, as big men from both sides carried the scoring load. Kambala would finish the half with 13 points, alongside Okur's 11 points and 6 rebounds. Kinder was lead by Smodis, who displayed many moves on his way to scoring 11 points, while Griffith, despite his foul trouble, nonetheless had 9 rebounds by halftime. Efes showed no signs of backing down to Kinder, but the visitors' turnovers allowed Kinder to take the lead at 28-25. But Okur answered Kinder's fastbreaks with two tough baskets down low and Efes suddenly led 28-29. David Andersen scored twice in a row to push Kinder back into a solid lead at 36-31, but Ender Arslan got a layup to get Efes as close as it could be, 36-33, going into the lockers.
Aggressiveness on both ends of the floor continued to mark the playing style of both teams after the break, which meant that neither would seize the upper hand in the third quarter. Kinder got its points from nice inside passing involving Griffith on the block. Kinder's defense caused more problems for the Efes guards, whose penetration was cut off, but as the home team was still cold from outside and the visiting big men continued their inspired play, a stalemate ensued. However, the defending champs were able use to their big inside horses, too, as Smodis and Griffith, whom Efes couldn't stop from making plays around the basket, allowed Kinder to remain slightly ahead, 56-52, after three quarters.
The fourth quarter opened up with both teams physically going at each other. Kambala and Abbio got tangled under the basket and both teams continued to give hard fouls. Although Ginobili hit a tough three-pointer, both Abbio and Marko Jaric uncharacteristically missed the basket on their own long-distance attempts early in the period. Jaric never got on track and finished the game scoreless. Both teams faced foul trouble by middle of the period, too. For Efes, Okur fouled out with 5 minutes remaining, while Kambala played the final minutes with four. For Kinder, Ginobili went to the bench with 4 fouls with 6 minutes left. Rigaudeau provided the offensive spark for Kinder's backcourt during the game's final minutes. Entering the last 3 minutes, Efes went blow for blow with Kinder, with Kambala scoring down low and both Brown and Onan making tough threes, forcing a Kinder timeout with two minutes remaining. Kinder came out of the timeout and pounded the ball inside again to get the lead back. Efes was playing with four guards and Kambala, with Brown forced to guard Smodis. Kambala continued to battle the Kinder front line alone. In the end, despite an amazing effort by Efes, Kinder wore the visitors down. During the last 2 minutes, Griffith was able to deny Kambala the ball in the crucial possessions and three-point attempts by Brown and Onan didn't fall now. Efes went down punching, but Kinder looked like the team sure to move on.
Thursday, March 28, 2002