A crucial battle for Top 16 positioning in Group B ended with host Efes Pilsen defeating Lietuvos Rytas 77-62 to not only draw even in the standings, but overcome the difference from when they played the season opener. Both teams are now 3-3 and tied with Partizan Belgrade for third place in the group. If ties become a factor at the end of the regular season, the 15-point Efes margin could mean a lot, in which case the second-half appearance made by Daniel Santiago will, also. The game was close throughout the 25 minutes during which both teams traded leads on the scoreboard. However, the arrival of Santiago in minute 27 turned everything upside down. The veteran center exploded for 17 points in 13 minutes, while also contributing in a decisive way on defense to send Efes to a solid victory. Igor Rakocevic added 16 points as the only other Efes player to score in double digits. For L. Rytas, Bojan Popovic and Arturas Jomantas led the way with 12 points each.
A nifty turnaround hook by Mario Kasun opened the scoring for Efes, while Martynas Gecevicius finished a fastbreak to get the visitors rolling. Otherwise, L. Rytas had trouble avoiding the strong Efes defense of the first minutes. Both teams were efficient on the offensive boards but Efes took better advantage of the situation to keep a 6-4 lead after Bootsy Thornton's basket. Popovic's three-point shot finally re-started L. Rytas as both defenses were now working at full throttle. Jomantas scored and hit 1 of 2 free throws for a10-10 tie as it was the turn of Efes now to struggle with turnovers and misses. Justas Sinica checked into the game and quicly blasted his own three-pointer for the first L. Rytas lead, 10-13. Kerem Tunceri showed some aggressiveness for Efes on offense, and it paid off as he fed Kaya Peker for a three-point play that tied it again, 13-13. Peker was the leader on offense now and he managed to draw a new foul for two free throws that sealed the outcome of the first quarter, 15-13.
The L. Rytas defense let Preston Shumpert to start the second quarter by scoring from beyond the arc. L. Rytas used a pick-'n'-roll to spring Dejan Borovnjak for an easy basket, but then Rakocevic decided to take Efes for a ride on his shoulders with 7 straight points. Although Steponas Babrauskas hit a triple in the interim, Shumpert's basket gave Efes a high lead of 18-27 and had L. Rytas in trouble. Jomantas answered for the guests, but Rakocevic kept insisting, although not with the same success as in the previous plays. On the other end, L. managed to chain tiogether easy baskets by Jomantas and Gecevicius that made it 28-24 in no time, forcing an Efes timeout to figure out the zone defense of the guests. Kasun and Popovic traded free throws but it was Sinica time again, as the little-used forward - 0 for 8 from downtown in the season's first 5 games - now blasted back-to-back threes to tie the game, 32-32. When Popovic added 2 free throw. L. Rytas was suddenly the leader, 32-34, at the break.
Donatas Zavackas opened the second half for L. Rytas with 3 free throws, and Charles Smith replied with fireworks for Efes to make it 34-37. Peker's next low-post move in offense and another turnover forced by the Efes defense prompted a timeout by L. Rytas head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis. Tunceri's three-pointer seemed to put Efes back in command, but Gecevicius copied him soon to save L. Rytas. Peker was a giant under the boards, both on offense and defense, to keep Efes alive, 42-42, after his free throw, but Jomantas found himself alone in the corner to hit an open three to silence the Istanbul crowd. Both teams traded free throws now until Santiago stepped on-court for a basket-plus-free throw that put Efes ahead 49-4. Santiago then added 4 more points to thrust Efes in front by 53-47. Jomantas scored again to stop the 8-0 Efes run, and Babrauskas joined him with a new triple to make it a 53-52 score with a minute left in the third quarter. After Thornton and Popovic traded free throws, Santiago appeared again to slam on the buzzer for his ninth point in 4 minutes and a 57-53 Efes advantage.
Santiago also opened the last period with a hook that made him his team's top scorer, while on defense he also forced an L. Rytas turnover, allowing Thronton to make it 61-53. Babrauskas finally hit a long jumper to break the 6-0 Efes run, but Santiago turned the game upside down both on offense and defense. He scored 3 more free throws and blocked a shot to keep Efes ahead, 64-58, and he added a new authoritative layup to make it 66-58. L. Rytas wasn't able to let the ball flow on offense, and another turnover allowed Efes to pull away by 70-58 after Shumpert's jumper. Gecevicius showed a shy attempt for L. Rytas with free throws, but Rakocevic broke the game open for good with an open three that secured Efes Pilsen's new home win.
Thursday, December 3, 2009