In a battle for survival in the heart of Group B, another sellout crowd in Belgrade got to see basketball at its finest as Partizan edged Efes Pilsen 93-92 thanks to a monster night by Aleksandr Maric and a game-winning jumper by Dusan Kecman in the waning seconds. Partizan improved to 4-3 and now sits tied for third place with Lietuvos Rytas, while Efes dropped to fifth place at 3-4 with three regular season games remaining. Maric continued his relevatory season with a performance that ranked among the 10 best in the Euroleague this decade. The 25-year-old rookie center from Australia was unstoppable all night, finishing with 34 points on 13-of-16 two-point shooting while ripping down 16 rebounds, including 8 on offense to finish with a performance index rating of 49. Bo McCalebb was also huge for Partizan, fearlessly attacking the rim time and again to draw defenders and dish to the waiting Maric. The point guard, also a Euroleague rookie, finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Kecman's game-winning jumper from the foul line with 2.8 seconds left gave him 12 points to go with 6 assists. For Efes, which led by 88-85 late in the game, gor Rakocevic scored 24 points while Charles Smith seconded him with 18 points, including 5 three-pointers. Kaya Peker and Bostjan Nachbar added 17 and 14 points, respectively, in the losing effort. The game went back-and-forth all night with both teams going at one another with their best weapons and neither team able to open a lead greater than 6 points the entire night. While Efes dominated from the exterior with the marksmanship of Rakocevic and Smith, Partizan was simply unstoppable in the low blocks, blowing Efes away on the boards 40-19, including 20 on the offensive glass.
With the home crowd already roaring, Peker was not intimidated and drew first blood for Efes with a soft hook shot. Bootsy Thornton then found Peker for another inside bucket. Partizan struggled until McCalebb sliced for a layup and hit the free throw that came with it. Maric finally stopped Peker with a nice block, and Petar Bozic nailed a jumper to give Partizan its first lead, 5-4. Kecman and Lawrence Roberts came in to steady Partizan with their veteran experience after Jan Vesely picked up his second foul. Kasun muscled in for a layup-plus-free throw, but Roberts did not wait to make an impact, hitting a three-pointer from the wing. Nor did Kecman, who put back a miss to give Partizan a 10-7 lead. Rakocevic entered to give Efes instant offense. Maric tipped in another miss, but Smith answered immediately with a three-point bomb. McCalebb gave way to Aleksandr Rasic, who dished to Maric for a game-tying layup at 11-11. Smith then swished another triple, drew the foul and hit the free throw for a four-point play. McCalebb returned to score on a scooping layup, and though Daniel Santiago made free throws and Rakocevic a jump shot for Efes, Rasic finished the quarter with a three-pointer to keep Partizan in front, 19-20.
Nachbar opened the second quarter with a layup for Efes and Kecman hit back with two-pointer. Smith kept it coming by dropping another three. Maric got to the line for 2 points, but Rakocevic found Nachbar for the layup. Branislav Dekic nailed a three from the corner. Rakocevic connected again with a jumper, but Rasic hit another triple. Rakocevic stayed aggressive and drove for another layup as neither team could miss during an electric give-and-take between offenses. After Rasic got a tough short to go down, the score was knotted at 31-31. Rakocevic accepting the challenge and hit a baseline jumper. Maric then threw down a two-handed dunk off an in-bounds alley-oop from Vesely. Peker then hit right back from downtown for a three-point advantage. Ender Arslan, just off the bench for his first action, pushed the ball off a turnover and found Nachbar for a three. Vesely then used the glass to bank in a triple of his own. Smith, completely unconscious, drilled his fourth three-pointer to give Efes a 6-point lead. Slvako Vranes worked in for a basket close, and McCalebb used some excellent ball fakes to eventually find Maric for the slam. Arslan used his speed to get to the glass for 2 points, but Maric continued to dominate under the glass for powered in for a layup. Facing a zone from Partizan out of a timeout, Kasun came off the baseline and received the pass from Nachbar in the high post for the slam. McCalebb drove and dished to his favorite target, Maric, who earned a trip to the line where he made both. Efes went into halftime up 46-48.
Smith got Efes going in the third period with a drive a dish to Santiago for the slam before Bozic nailed a three-pointer. Nachbar got a jump shot to roll in, but Partizan kept pulling in the offensive boards. A tip-in by Maric was the third in one single possession for the home team. McCalebb gave Partizan the 53-52 advantage with 2 free throws, but Nachbar made a difficult double-clutch layup to grab the lead right back and Rakocevic made another tough floating jumper from the baseline. Maric hit a mid-range jumper. Rakocevic then drew a foul on Dekic on a three-pointer and got Efes second four-point play to go ahead 55-60. McCalebb, not wanting Efes to get any momentum, skied in for a layup and then got to the line for 2 more points. Peker hit inside, but the McCalebb-Maric connection worked yet again for a dunk by the big man. Kecman fed Maric who once again rattled the rim, and McCalebb tied it at 64-64 with a free throw. Vesely then gave the home side the lead by dunked in a miss by McCalebb. Arslan grabbed a loose ball, drove the baseline and flipped in a layup while drawing the foul for a three-point play. Maric evened the score at 67-67 going 1-of-2 from the foul line. Roberts kept a play alive and then fed Maric for a layup. Smith hit a high, arcing floater, and Arslan weaved his way to the bucket for 2 more points to put Efes ahead 71-72 after three quarters.
A Santiago free throw opened the final quarter. Another Partizan offensive rebound led to McCalebb cashing in with a three-pointer. Smith quickly answered from even deeper over the outstretched arms of Vesely, but Kecman found Roberts cutting for the slam at 77-76. Maric added foul shots even while Roberts fouled out for Partizan with 6:15 to play. Efes struggled to score, so Partizan went up by 5 when Maric slammed home a miss. Nachbar and Peker tied the game 81-81 on 5 straight free throws. Vesely made a nice pass to Maric, who struck again with a layup, but then Rakocevic downed 4 more foul shots to give Efes an 83-85 lead with under 3 minutes left. Kecman answered from the line to tie, before he and Rakocevic exchanged huge three-pointers as the show hurtled towards a great climax. With under a minute to go, Arslan penetrated and dished to Peker along the baseline for the layup to put Efes up 88-90. Maric, never bigger, was there to put back a miss by McCalebb, who fouled out with 16 seconds to play sending Peker to the line. The Efes center made 1 of 2, as did Maric when fouled quickly and sent to the line. It was then Thornton's turn to shoot for free. He too made 1 of 2, with his first point all night putting Efes ahead 91-92 with 8 seconds left. After a timeout, Kecman ran a pick-and-roll with Maric to stop high in the lane for an open jumper. It fell with 2.8 seconds left, putting the Pionir Arena crowd in hysterics, and leaving not enough time for Rakocevic to get off a clean shot. A classic was over with Partizan and its fans celebrating a move into Top 16 position in Group B.
Thursday, December 10, 2009