An unusual victory in Group A went the way of Efes Pilsen on Wednesday in Instanbul, when the hosts survived not scoring in the game's final 5 minutes to outlast hard-charging Cibona VIP for a 72-70 decision. The win boosted the Group A record of Efes to 2-1, while Cibona fell to 1-2. Vladimir Krstic made a steal in the waning seconds and tried to win the game for Cibona with a three-pointer, but it missed to spoil a near-miraculous comeback. As it was, Henry Domercant's 22 points and Kaya Peker's 15 led Efes in a game where the home team's scoring through 35 minutes proved enough. The two teams were practically even in all statistical categories. Branimir Longin led Cibona with 21 points, while Marko Popovic had 18.
The game started like a three-point challenge, with both sides scoring 3 quick ones each from the arc. Efes had led 5 - 0 after a minute with a triple from Mustafa Abi, but Popovic, Marton Bader and Josip Sesar soon found a way to match his accuracy and the score, at 9-9. But after Ermal Kuqo had hit his own downtown shot for Efes, Domercant followed with another to make it 12-9. Kaya Peker and Kuqo caused the inside players of Cibona trouble while Efes strengthened its defensive toughness minute by minute. Domercant detonated his second dunk of the quarter in minute 9 to give Efes its biggest lead yet, 25-18. Andrija Zizic, quiet until then, made a free throw to cut the difference to 25-19 after 10 minutes in which one of the best things Cibona could say was that Popovic did a good job keeping Will Solomon to just 2 points.
In the second quarter, Efes tried to increase the lead but Cibona defended very well for the first 5 minutes. Efes was held scoreless until another triple by Abi, but all Cibona's efforts didn't impact the scoreboard because it also had trouble scoring against Efes, and was able to reduce the difference by just 3 points, to 30-27 in minute 17 on a jumper by Branimir Longin. Then Efes got what in needed from Domercant, back-to-back three}pointers that established a double-digit lead, 40-30, in the final minute of the game. Longin had an answer before the half could finish, but Efes still enjoyed a solid 40-33 lead. Domercant was already up to 13 points for Efes while Popovic of Cibona had 10.
Now, as the third quarter started, Cibona got exactly what it needed, an offensive boost. Andrej Stimac came off the bench for 5 points in a powerful 0-12 run that turned around the scoreboard and put the guests in front, 40-45. Efes shook itself away and saw Peker and Nikola Prkacin, playing against his old team, score baskets to set up Abi's third three-pointer, which tied the game at 47-47. A Domercant jumper restored the Efes lead at 49-47 in the 26th minute, then Ender Arslan helped preserve it at 52-50 with a three-point play. Efes then finished the quarter with a 7-2 run that included 5 points by Peker to take a 59-52 lead after 30 minutes.
Domercant, the man of the match for Efes, started the last quarter with another three-pointer to stretch the home team lead to double-digits at 62-52. Cibona never lost its head, however, and Bader was able to put in 5 points to reduce the difference to 64-57. Efes kept pouring it on, however, as Prkacin and Domercant scored before Arslan struck from downtown to give Efes a seemingly solid lead at 72-60 with 6 minutes remaining. When both teams went scoreless during the next 3 minutes, those 12 points looked even safer. Not even Popovic's jumper to end the drought seemed too much trouble for Efes, which still led 72-62 entering the last 2 minutes. But Efes was still unable to score. Meanwhile, Popovic scored 3 more points, Longin scored on a jumper then added a basket-plus-free throw with 4 seconds to play to bring Cibona within 72-70. Then, after a pair of tactical fouls, Arslan lost the ball to Vladimir Krstic, who shot from three-point distance in the right corner trying to win it. The ball missed and with it went Cibona's chance at an extraordinary comeback victory, while Efes survived without a point in the final 5 minutes and 8 seconds.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004