Efes Pilsen entered 2005 in style by winning its seventh straight game and taking over the Group A lead with a hard-fought 79-73 victory over visiting Climamio Bologna on Thursday in Istanbul. The win not only lifted Efes to 8-1, but avenged its worst-ever Euroleague loss by 21 points in the first-leg game between the teams at Bologna. Climamio dropped to 7-2 and second place despite almost rallying for a chance to win at the end. The difference for Efes was Will Solomon, who poured in 26 points to go with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Goran Nikolic shook off foul trouble to add 14 points and Niksa Prkacin added 12 for the winners. For Climanio, Milos Vujanic scored 18 points, 12 of them in the first half, while Gianluca Basile added 16 and Ruben Douglas 13.
Climamio hit the floor ready to show Efes that it could play defense, too. After 2 minutes of high pressure, the visitors led 0-7 as Erazem Lorbek put back a pair of offensive rebounds and Vujanic drilled a three-pointer after grabbing his own miss. Solomon and Kuqo got Efes on the scoreboard then, but the trend continued as Climamio's defense held the host scoreless for 2 more minutes while Lorbek upped the edge to 4-11. The Efes defense locked in now, however, and Solomon showed how he can change a game quickly by pouring in 7 points in a minute to tie 11-11. His points came on consecutive three-pointers, the second of which came with a free throw for a rare four-point play. Climamio continued to get inside for points and fouls just the same. With 4 free throws by Douglas and baskets by Vujanic and Gianluca Basile, the guests pulled away to a 16-20 lead after 10 minutes.
The Climamio bench flexed its muscles to start the second quarter as Matjaz Smodis scored from the arc and Marco Belinelli had a traditional three-point play on a dunk and free throw as the visitors' advantage hit 20-26. Efes was getting inside baskets from Goran Nikolic, three in a row, and good defense kept Efes close until Mustafa Abi could drop a three-pointer to pull the hosts within 25-28. Nikolic dropped his fourth basket before going off with his third foul, just before Kuqo scored inside to cap a 9-3 run with a 29-29 tie. Vujanic broke that with a triple, but Efes got all 3 points back at the foul line with Kuqo and Ender Arslan, and soon Solomon stepped up with a triple for a 35-33 home lead. He and Vujanic dueled until a triple by Douglas over the Efes zone helped the guests hold onto a 39-41 lead at the half. Solomon already had 14 points for Efes, Vujanic 12 for Climanio, who was outrebounding the hosts 11-21.
Efes made a move to start the third quarter as Solomon hit a quick jumper and Peker free throws to go ahead 43-41. Douglas got the lead back for Climamio with a pair of baskets, but Solomon tied it before the guests fell into foul trouble. Big man Dalibor Bagaric got his fourth foul and within a couple minutes Smodis had the same. At the same time, Solomon was running and Climamio's transition defense failed to get back and stop the Efes fastbreaks. Henry Domercant, quiet until then, sparked an 8-0 Efes run that ended with his three-pointer and a 53-45 lead for the hosts. Solomon drove to the basket in minute 27 to up the advantage to 56-47. Climamio tried fullcourt zone pressure now, but Efes wasn't going for it as new signee Dusan Kecman scored his first basket for the high lead so far, 61-50, in the quarter's final minute. Climamio's silent partner until then, Basile, hit a three-pointer to cut the difference back to single digits, 61-53, after 30 minutes.
When Bagaric got his fifth foul to start the final quarter, Climamio turned to zone defense and it worked well for the visitors. Efes could not score for a couple minutes during which Marco Belinelli made a layup and a shot from downtown that put Climamio as close as 61-58. Although Nikolic returned to end the Efes scoring drought, the reawakened Basile was back for the guests, nailing a pair of triples in as many minutes to put Climamio within a point, at 65-64. It took only a couple of seconds, however, for Solomon to respond with his own strike from the arc, and while the Efes defense blanked Climamio for 2 more minutes, Nikolic dropped a pair of baskets to make it 72-64 with under 3 minutes left. After a series of misses, Basile reemerged to steal and score a layup and then bury another triple early in the final minute, bringing Climamio within 73-71. Niksa Prkacin was sent to the foul line and converted both his chances for Efes to lead 75-71 after which a Basile miss left too little time for Climamio to complete a comeback. First place belonged now to Efes.
Thursday, January 6, 2005