Efes Pilsen made it to the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs from Group G by winning a tense showdown with AEK 69-62 at home in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday. Nothing short of victory was going to let Efes Pilsen advance after Benetton Treviso thrashed Prokom Trefl, also on Wednesday. Efes, Benetton and AEK finished tied at 4-2 and had 2-2 marks against each other in head-to-head competition at the end of the Top 16. In the next tiebreaker, point difference among them, Benetton placed first (+14), Efes second (+4) and AEK third (-18). Efes, therefore, will face Group F winner Panathinaikos, but will not have homecourt advantage in their best-of-three quarterfinal series. Henry Domercant led the winners with 18 points, including a key three-pointer which sealed the outcome with less than 2 minutes to go. Nikola Prkacin added 14 points and Ermal Kuqo 13 on 6-for-6 shooting for Efes Pilsen. Davor Kus led AEK with 13 points, most of those late in the game, when AEK came as closes as 3 points from the lead. Nikos Hatzis added 12 for AEK, while Nikos Zisis and Quadre Lollis each had 10 for the guests. Lollis added 10 rebounds for a double-double.
Efes had a very good defensive first quarter and despite conceding the first basket by AEK's Sandro Nicevic with a layup, followed that with a 9-0 run over 3 minutes to take a 13-4 lead. Prkacin got that burst going with a couple baskets and Domercant capped it with a three pointer less than halfway through the quarter. AEK took a timeout to try to overcome the Efes defense, but after a basket by Lollis and free throws by Hatzis made it 13-8, the points dried up again for the visitos. Will Solomon and Prkacin added to the Efes lead before Nicevic scored again to give AEK double-digits as a team as the quarter ended with a 17-10 score.
Kuqo opened the second quarter with a layup that raised the lead to 19-10 for Efes before AEK found its way back. Hatzis nailed a three-pointer and Toby Bailey a pair of free throws, but Kuqo kept the hosts up with 2 more baskets inside. Even when Zizis cut the lead to 23-18 with a triple for AEK, Ender Arslan answered on the next shot. But Pero Antic did the same for AEK, also on the next trip down the floor, keeping his team close. AEK turned to zone defence in the 15th minute and quickly reduced the gap to just 2 points, 30-28, as Hatzis poured in another triple and Bailey 2 more free throws. Nicevic put a basket in between one each by Prkacin and Nikolic, but Arslan was able to put the finishing touch of free throws for Efes that preserved a 38-33 lead for the hosts at halftime.
Efes had a thunderous start to the second half, extending the lead minute by minute. Domercant had inside and outside baskets and Prkacin another in a 6-0 blast that gave the hosts their highest lead yet, 44-33, after 23 minutes. Lollis and Andreas Glyniadakis tried to keep AEK close at 44-37, but Efes got another 6-0 blast courtesy of one player, Domercant, who scored 3 on a shot from the arc and the other 3 on a basket-plus-foul inside that left the hosts looking good at 50-37. AEK didn't agree, and answered with its own 0-6 run, finished a layup-plus-free throw by Kus. Arslan and Kuqo restored a double-digit lead at 54-43, but Kus and Nicevic combined on 3 free throws to give AEK some hope as the third quarter ended 54-46.
AEK made its move to start the final quarter, and again it was Kus leading the way. His triple to open it cut the difference to 5 points, 54-49, and only Kuqo's 3 points could hold the line at 57-51 for Efes after 32 minutes. A tense, almost scoreless 3 minutes passed in which Prkacin and Hatzis traded the only baskets and Efes point guard Solomon went out with his fifth foul. Efes seemed to have lost its balance when Kus followed a free throw with a layup to pull AEK within 59-56 with under 6 minutes remaining. Another tense couple of minutes passed in which the only point was the free throw Kaya Peker added to the Efes lead. Then came the big shot, with 1 minute, 30 seconds left, a triple from Domercant that made it 63-56 and gave Efes all the breathing room it needed. Kus trimmed 2 more points off the lead from the foul line, but the best AEK could do after that was trade points as Nikolic, Domercant and Arslan went 6 for 6 from the foul line down the stretch to assure Efes a place in the quarterfinals.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005