Panathinaikos reached the Euroleague quarterfinals playoff as the Group F champion by knocking out Climamio Bologna 78-55 in a do-or-die game for both teams in Athens, Greece on Wednesday night. Panathinaikos needed to win by 18 points or more in order to finish first at the end of the Top 16 and managed to reach its goal with a 11-0 run late in the final period. Panathinaikos, Climamio and Tau, an 82-86 victor on the road at Zalgiris, finished tied in Group F with 4-2 records and 2-2 marks against each other in head-to-head competition. In the second tiebreaker, point difference among them, Panathinaikos placed first (+14), Tau second (+8) and Climamio third (-22), meaning that last year's Euroleague runner-up is eliminated. Climamio could have afforded up to a four-point loss and still advanced, but Panathinaikos never let the visitors get close enough. Jaka Lakovic led the winners with 26 points on 11 of 13 free throws and 4 steals. Dimitrios Diamantidis added 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, while Vlado Scepanovic had 10 for Panathinaikos, which will face Efes Pilsen, second in Group G, in the best-of-three quarterfinal series for a spot in the Final Four. Matjaz Smodis led Climamio with 21 points while Milos Vujanic added 15 for the guests.
Smodis opened fire with a close basket and Vujanic slashed for a difficult layup that gave Climamio a 2-4 lead. Both team looked for quick offenses in the early going, with good shot selection. Diamantidis fired in a triple to give Panathinaikos its first lead, 5-4. Vujanic followed a fast break layup with his first three-pointer, enough to put Climamio back in charge, 5-9. A very active Diamantidis slashed for a power layup, igniting a 9-0 run in which he had 4 points. Scepanovic capped it with a big basket which gave Panathinaikos a 14-9 edge midway through the first. Vujanic tried to change things with a driving layup, but Scepanovic nailed a catch-and-shoot three for a six-point Panathinaikos lead, 17-11. Climamio switched to zone defense, but the hosts, pushed by an amazing crowd, played with a different intensity, even when Scepanovic left the floor with an ankle injury. Lakovic made 3 free throws to give the Greens their biggest margin in this period, 20-12. A big dunk by Dalibor Bagaric and free throws by Vujanic and Smodis brought the guests within 21-17 after 10 minutes.
Lakovic turned an outstanding reverse layup into a basket-plus-foul to pace Panathinaikos early in the second, but Rodolfo Rombaldoni erased it with a corner three for a 24-20 Climamio deficit. Great ball circulation allowed Lakovic to nail a three-pointer from the left corner, as Panathinaikos involved all five players in its dynamic offense. Meanwhile, Climamio struggled to score, with many turnovers, while Ibrahim Kutluay stepped up with a fast break layup and Diamanatidis scored in penetration to boost the hosts' lead to double digits, 31-20. Climamio went scorless for more than 4 minutes which features several shot clock violations. Lakovic capped a 9-0 run with free throws for a 13-point Panathinaikos lead, 33-20. Smodis tried to get Climamio back in track with a layup, but the guests found hard to beat the Greens' excellent defense. Smodis and Vujanic scored consecutive baskets to wake Climamio up, but Diamantidis took Ruben Douglas one-on-one for 2 driving layups and a 38-26 Panathinaikos margin at halftime.
Nothing changed early in the third, as Panathinaikos carried on rolling. A free throw by Patrick Femerling and a big three by Lakovic made it a 16-point game, 42-26. Bagaric stepped up with a tip-in for Climamio and Gianluca Basile scored his first basket. Panathinaikos found a go-to guy in Kutluay, who followed a driving layup with a triple to push the hosts' margin even higher, 47-30. Climamio tried to change things with a timeout, but its shooters were off-target and missed open shots. Smodis made free throws and Stefano Mancinelli finally fired in a triple to bring Climamio within 48-35. Scepanovic came back to the floor and slashed for a power basket, but the guests were now in the right track. Gianmarco Pozzecco followed Smodis' layup with a mid-rang jumper to make it a 11-point game, 50-39. Batiste came to the rescue with 4 quick points, but Douglas drilled a bomb from downtown which brought Climamio within 55-42 after 30 minutes.
Lakovic scored off a steal to open the final period, but Douglas immediately answered from downtown to wake the guests up. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos needed to win by 18 to become the Group F champion, and a big basket by Batiste brought the Greens closer to its goal, 59-45. Vujanic slashed for a layup, but he didn't find much help around, as back-to-back airballs by Basile and Douglas prevented any kind of comeback. Even with that, Panathinaikos now struggled against Climamio's 2-3 zone defense, while Smodis scored around the basket to bring his team within single digits, 59-50. A put-back layup by Diamantidis and a big three by Fragiskos Alvertis from the left side sealed the outcome of the game, 64-50, with under 4 minutes to go. Lakovic took over with an outstanding four-point play and Scepanovic made 3 free throws to put Panathinaikos in charge of his group, 71-52. Lakovic added a fast break layup and free throws which made it a 23-point game, 75-52, already in the final minute, as the Greens' fans started to celebrate that his team had made the playoffs as the Group F champion!
Wednesday, March 30, 2005