Efes Pilsen started its quest for the Final Four by smothering Pau-Orthez 57-77 on Thursday in France for a road win that it dominated with its signature defense. The victory lets Efes join Skipper Bologna, which won at home against Union Olimpija, for an early first-place tie in Group E. Antonio Granger took over on offense for the winners, putting up 15 first-quarter points on his way to a floor-high 25 for the game. Omer Onan added 12 pionts and Goran Nikolic 10 for the winners, who overcame foul trouble that held Trajan Langdon to just 2 points. Kerem Tunceri came off the bench to dish 9 assists also. But it was the Efes team defense that ruled. Pau's 57 points was the third-lowest total for a team in Top 16 play. Only Laurent Foirest, with 4 triples among his 14 points, and Florent Pietrus, with 11 more, reached double figures for the home team.
Both teams started the game with aggressive man-to-man defense, but consecutive three-pointers from Artur Drozdov and Foirest put Pau ahead quickly at 9-4. Efes had early foul trouble with big men Ermal Kuqo and Nikola Prkacin saddled with two each and shooter Trajan Langdon three in the first 8 minutes. But Granger had already taken charge by then with his own 0-8 run - back-to-back triples plus a pair of free throws - that gave Efes an 11-12 lead. Foirest fired Pau back in front from downtown and Mate Skelin kept the local lead with free throws for 16-14, but now Granger needed to dunk. The Efes forward threw down a couple slams and finished the quarter with 15 points as his team held a 19-22 lead.
Although Efes only got free throws early in the second quarter, those proved enough to lift the lead to 21-28 because its defense was slowly tightening the screws on Pau. The home team decided to play with twin point guards, Frederic Fauthoux and Dragan Lukovski, to help stop Efes from running, but starters Artur Drozdov and Cyril Julian picked up third fouls each to hurt Pau inside. Still, a jumper by Pietrus followed by Fauthoux's triple helped cut the difference to 26-28 after 14 minutes. That was as far as Efes let Pau's offense go, however. It allowed the hosts only 2 more points the rest of the half, while slowly building a big advantage. Tunceri and Peker scored to extend the lead to 26-36. Teenager Johan Petro broke a four-minute scoring drought for Pau, but Nikolic answered in the final minute and Efes went to the lockers ahead 28-38.
Efes made its big move with a 3-9 run to start the third quarter and increased its lead to 16 points, 31-47, on a dunk by Kuqo. Pau struggled to score against the man-to-man defense of Efes, which saw everybody helping, inside and outside. Both Nikolic and Langdon went to bench after they recieved their fourth fouls in the 24th minute. Pau sprung a zone press in the remaining 3 minutes of the quarter, which led to 10 quick points but did not close the gap, as Efes scored 15 points in the same span. Before the quarter ended, Granger again put on a show offensive creativity against the pressure of Pau maintain a 38-53 lead after 30 minutes.
The last period was no different than the third. Efes controlled the game and used all 24 seconds of its offensive possessions to kill time. Pau's guard went down on defense while Efes widened its lead after misses by Fauthoux, Ime Archibong and Pietrus. Ultimately, Tunceri's three-pointer extended the lead to 22 points, 40-62. The rest of the game was just a matter of time while Efes had started the second phase with a comfortable away win: 57-77.
Wednesday, March 3, 2004