Defending Euroleague champion Panathinaikos survived a stern test from Lottomatica Roma on opening night and held on for a tough 86-83 win at the Athens Olympic Indoor Hall (OAKA). Roma point guard Roko-Leni Ukic's last second three-pointer that would have sent the game to overtime was waived off for a traveling violation, allowing the Greens to celebrate a hard-fought win. Vassilis Spanoulis scored 15 in his return to Euroleague Basketball to lead Panathinaikos, while another returnee, Sarunas Jasikevicius, came up big in the fourth quarter with 7 consecutive points and 2 late free throws. Rome came out strong, riding a red-hot Jon Stefansson and Erazem Lorbek to early leads. A David Hawkins three put the visitors up 20-26 after 10 minutes and Lorbek's second-period domination gave Roma a 33-45 halftime advantage. Panathinaikos fought back through defense, holding Roma scoreless for five minutes in the third quarter, during which Euroleague newcomer Kennedy Winston helped orchestrate a 13-0 run that put the host back on top. The game became a battle in the closing minutes. Stefansson put Roma up 75-79, but Saras responded with 7 straight points to restore Panathinaikos's lead. But when Mike Batiste was called for a unsportsmanlike foul on Stefansson in the last minute, Roma had a chance to retake the lead. However Dimitrios Diamantidis stole Hawkins's inbounds pass, Saras made two free throws and Ukic's traveling violation allowed the hosts to earn the win. Diamantidis added 14 points and Batiste 10 for the winners. Stefansson scored a career-high 25 for Roma, while Lorbek had 18, Hawkins 14 and Ukic dished a career-best 8 assists. Before the game, Euroleague Basketball's salute to 50 years of European club basketball continued as three greats of Panathinaikos history, coach Zeljko Obradovic, team captain Fragiskos Alvertis, and retired legend Dejan Bodiroga who is now Roma's general manager, were honored.
A three-point play by Lorbek and a triple by Roberto Gabini gave the visitors an early 4-8 lead. Sani Becirovic answered back with a triple of his own, only to see jump shots by Allan Ray and Hawkins put Roma ahead 7-13. A flagrant foul and 5 points by Kostas Tsartsaris allowed the hosts to take their first lead in the game, 16-15. After a Roma time-out, Lorbek stepped up to restore a one-point advantage for the guests. Sarunas Jasikevicius and Spanoulis came off the bench to control the rhythm, however veteran Gregor Fucka was not intimidated and he frustrated the crowd with a two-handed slum to make it 20-23. An erratic play by Spanoulis did not allow the Greens to bounce back and Hawkins beat the buzzer for a 20-26 lead after 10 minutes.
The second quarter commenced with coach Obradovic choosing to play with four guards, Jasikevicius, Becirovic, Spanoulis and Diamantidis, plus forward Batiste. Diamantidis provided the brains and managed to engage his teammates in the paint, however Ray and Stefansson were too hot to let the hosts bridge the gap and forced Panathinaikos to call a timeout. Still Obradovic's men players could not contain Lorbek, who was dominating in the paint and soon Roma forged a double-digit lead with four minutes to go. However the fans were not willing to go down without a fight and started pouring their hearts out in the stands, but Stefansson’s three-point show was not over yet. Tsartsaris responded with a spin move and Winston drove and went up for a thunderous dunk that sliced the margin to 33-40. Lorbek thought otherwise though and unleashed a triple to keep Roma in the driver’s seat. On the other end of the court, Becirovic failed to connect from downtown and Lorbek, looking like a man on a mission, threw in a hook to fix the halftime score at 35-45.
The hosts came out in the second half determined to hack away at the deficit, however that was not possible as long as the visitors continued to easily find their way to the basket. Fucka built a 40-49 lead and, even though Spanoulis came through with 9 points in the next four minutes, the momentum of the game did not change. Roko-Leni Ukic picked up the scoring slack with back-to-back points to make it 48-56 for Roma midway through the third period. Andrija Zizic hit two free throws and a three-point shot by Winston sandwiched a non-productive visit to the charity line by Lorbek to make it 53-56. Now the champs were clamping down on the defensive end, which left Roma without a point for more than five minutes and sparked a 13-0 run that was capped with a pair of free-throws by Winston. Finally, Hawkins ended the drought with a jaw-dropping reverse layup, which Spanoulis countered out with a mid-range shot to boost the Greens’ margin to 62-58 with a period to go.
Batiste opened the final quarter with 4 points in the paint to extend the lead to 66-58. Hawkins came up big once again with a smooth move, only to be bettered by Diamantidis who knocked down a triple for a 69-60 advantage. Ukic and Stefansson scored 5 points to put Roma back in the game, until emerging leader Diamantidis dropped another three-point bomb. With the game at 73-65, Hawkins’s heroics carried his team to within 2 and forced Obradovic to call back his troops with 5:12 left. After the timeout, Stefansson delivered from the arc, allowing Roma to regain the lead. Diamantidis scored from the free-throw line before Fucka followed him with a gutsy hook-shot. Then Tsartsaris misfired from the three-point line, unlike sharp-shooter Stefansson who nailed yet another triple to keep the guests in charge, 75-79. However Jasikevicius saved the last word for himself and with 7 consecutive points gave Panathinaikos a 82-79 advantage with less than 30 seconds to go. Stefansson penetrated to the basket and Batiste was given a flagrant foul that could turn the game topsy-turvy. The Roma guard made it a one-point game, yet two-time Euroleague Defender of the year Diamantidis stole the ball from Hawkins and sealed the victory for Panathinaikos.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007