FC Barcelona kept its share of the Group A lead and preserved its unblemished home record with a 73-60 comeback victory Thursday against Efes Pilsen. The game was quite even until the last minutes, when Sarunas Jasikevicius and Dejan Bodiroga gave 16 straight points to Barcelona that changed a tie score to a double-digit victory. As such, Barcelona improved to 8-2, the same record as Benetton, though their tie will be broken when two co-leaders meet in the next game at Treviso. Efes had a chance to drag Barcelona down to third place, but instead fell to fourth at 6-5. Jasikevicius led all scorers with 23 points, 13 of them in the last quarter. Bodiroga added 16 for Barcelona, plus grabbed 7 rebounds and dished 4 assists. Gregor Fucka chipped in 11 points. Antonio Granger led Efes with 14 points, Kaspars Kambala added 12 and Kerem Tunceri 11, but despite being tied with less than 5 minutes left, the visitors could not overcome a 37-21 disadvantage in rebounding on the night.
Efes had started the game superbly.They scored on their first 6 shot attempts and were leading 9-15 after 4 minutes. Barcelona coach Svetislav Pesic had said the day before the game, in the press conference, that Barcelona didn't have a real defensive specialist. But things changed when he put Nacho Rodríguez and Rodrigo De la Fuente on the floor in the 6th minute. Efes didn't score any more baskets in the first quarter and the Spanish team took the lead for the first time at 18-17. Juan Carlos Navarro, Bodiroga and Fucka had scored all the points of their team to that moment and by the end of the first quarter, Barcelona was leading 21-18.
Barcelona would take its biggest lead of the first half at the beginning of the second quarter: 23-18. But Efes reacted immediatly with a 0-6 run to a 23-24 lead. Thereafter, no team could get a lead of more than 3 points until a minute remained in the half, when Barcelona surged 4 ahead, 36-32. Roberto Dueñas was playing better than before, limiting the inside play of Kambala, who had scored 41 points for Efes when Barcelona played in Istanbul. Tunceri hit the floor when his backup, Ender Arslan, committed 3 fouls in as many minutes. By halftime, Barcelona was leading 38-35 with Fucka having already scored the 11 points he would finish the night with. Granger and Kampala had 8 apiece for Efes.
Barcelona extended its lead to seven points, 42-35, at the beginning of the third quarter as Jasikevicius scored 3 quick baskets. But Efes was there to show what has made it one the best Europeans teams on defense. So good was the visitors concentration that Barcelona's lineup of scoring aces were unable to score a single point for more than 5 minutes. With Granger and Kambala on the bench, however, the Turks could not score much either, but did so enough to reduce the margin to 1 point, 48-47, at the end of the quarter, as Alper Yilmaz missed a three-point try in the last second.
Granger came back from the bench in the last quarter and he was there to give his team its first leads in some time, at 48-49 and 50-52. Barcelona needed desperately to find solutions, and so turned to its stars. After tying 53-53, Jasikevicius scored 9 points with 3 shots from outside the arc and Bodiroga added 9 to give the Spanish team the lead for good. Efes players had found foul trouble very early in the quarter and Kambala was unable to make room for his shots. They had managed to keep the scored levelled until 63-57, but everything was decided when Jasikevicius sank his last three-pointer. It was 69-57 with just under 2 minutes left. Soon, a layup from Jasikevicius would give Barcelona its biggest lead, 73-60, which coincidentally was where the game ended.
Thursday, January 16, 2003