|Videos: Zeljko Obradovic, Mike Batiste, Saras Jasikevicius, Nikola Pekovic, Stratos Perperoglou, Celebrations
Panathinaikos Athens is the Euroleague Basketball champion for 2009! Panathinaikos lifted its second crown in three years by beating last season’s champion CSKA 73-71 in a thrilling final at o2 World in Berlin on Sunday night. One of the most exciting basketball title games in history went to the wire and wasn’t decided until Ramunas Siskauskas's attempted three at the buzzer bounced out. That allowed Panathinaikos to celebrate its fifth Euroleague title and the seventh for head coach Zeljko Obradovic, the winningest head coach in Euroleague history. Vassilis Spanoulis was named Final Four MVP after scoring 13, including a clutch triple with less than three minutes to play. Panathinaikos had 10-0 runs in both the first and second quarters to surge ahead and Sarunas Jasikevicius and Drew Nicholas finished the second period with back-to-back three-pointers to give the Greens a 48-28 halftime lead. They would prove to need each of those as CSKA held the Greens scoreless for more than 8 minutes, scoring 17 unanswered points to come back. CSKA would narrow the gap to 1 in the closing seconds, but couldn't complete the comeback. Antonis Fotsis added 13 points and 8 rebounds for the winners and Jasikevicius and Dimitris Diamantidis scored 10 each. J.R. Holden paced CSKA with 14 points and Trajan Langdon and Siskauskas each scored 13.
Panathinaikos won the opening tip and had two good looks on its first possession, but came up empty. At the other end, CSKA got the ball inside and Viktor Khryapa scored on the offensive glass before Holden pulled up to double the score. Spanoulis got the Greens on the board, but baskets by Erazem Lorbek, Khryapa and Holden kept CSKA in control. Spanoulis ignited the Panathinaikos crowd with a three-pointer and a drive through the CSKA defense to get his team within 9-12. CSKA’s first wave of substitutions saw Siskauskas and Sashas Kaun come on, but that didn’t phase the Greens, who got baskets from Nikola Pekovic and Nicholas to take their first lead. Pekovic drew a foul from Khryapa on a dunk attempt and the latter was whistled for a technical. Pekovic sank all 4 free throws to cap a 10-0 Panathinaikos run that made it 17-12. A Kaun slam revived CSKA before head coach Ettore Messina called for a timeout. Fotsis sank 2 from the line before Holden and Mike Batiste traded baskets. Siskauskas missed twice from the line and the opening period ended with the Greens ahead 21-16.
A fresh Diamantidis carved through the CSKA defense for his first points, but a free throw and later a jumper by Matjaz Smodis kept Moscow close. Jasikevicius fired in a three and Diamantidis did the same as the Greens’ lead hit double figures. A CSKA turnover and a Nicholas jumper made it 31-19, fueled the Panathinaikos fans and led to a CSKA timeout. Moscow still had trouble getting the shots it wanted and Kostas Tsartsaris took advantage to cap the Panathinaikos run at 10-0. Holden ended the CSKA drought with a pair of free throws, but a Diamantidis three made it a 15-point game. Siskauskas banked in a shot only to see Fotsis respond with a three. Spanoulis made a triple to put his team up 42-25, but Holden beat Panathinaikos downcourt for an easy layup. The Green machine continued to roll as Jasikevicius and Nicholas made triples for a 48-28 halftime lead.
Just seconds into the second half, Jasikevicus nailed another three – making it 8 straight attempts without a miss for the Greens. CSKA soon found its footing, drew fouls on three straight possessions and behind 4 Langdon free throws cut the gap to 51-33. But the Panathinaikos assault continued and as Fotsis rifled in another three. Langdon and Siskauskas continued to will CSKA. Langdon had 7 in a 0-10 stretch to get to 56-43. After a Panathinaikos timeout, CSKA got free throws from Zoran Planinic and Khryapa to close continue its run, holding Panathinaikos without point for the final 6:10 of the third quarter to get within 56-46.
CSKA’s defense continued to deny Panathinaikos, while the defending champs continued their charge. Tsartsaris became the first player to foul out of the game before Smodis’s foul-line jumper capped a 0-17 charge and made it 56-60. Fotsis ended an eight-and-a-quarter-minute scoring drought for the Greens with a triple and Stratos Perperoglou soon restored a double-digit Panathinaikos advantage with a free throw and a basket in the paint. Lorbek kept CSKA’s hopes alive at 62-52, but a three by Perperoglou helped the Greens regain their confidence. A Planinic basket and a Siskauskas three brought CSKA right back. Siskauskas narrowed the gap to 65-58 with a free throw and Holden made his way through the Green defense to make it a 5-point game with three minutes to play. Spanoulis hit a clutch triple only to see Khryapa match him. Batiste went hard to the basket and was fouled by Khryapa. He made both free throws. Smodis drilled a three to make it 70-66. After Holden denied Spanoulis a good look at the basket, Khryapa drew Fotsis’s fifth foul with 40.9 seconds to play, but missed twice from the line. However Panathinaikos lost the ball on an 8 seconds violation and Siskauskas stepped up with a three with 26.2 seconds to play that made it 70-69. Forced to foul, CSKA sent Diamantidis to the line with 10.4 seconds to play and sank 2. CSKA took a timeout and set up a play for Siskauskas, but Diamantidis fouled him with 8.5 seconds left. The 2008 Euroleague MVP made both and this time Panathinaikos took a timeout up 72-71. Jasikevicus went to the line with 5.8 ticks on the clock and the No. 1 free throw shooter in competition history missed the first and hit the second. CSKA went again to Siskauskas who went for it all and bulled up for what would have been a buzzer-beating three, but it bounced out, leaving Panathinaikos to celebrate victory in one of the most exciting championship games ever.
Sunday, May 03, 2009