Euroleague defending champion Panathinaikos survived an untimely scare from last-place Buducnost in Podgorica on Wednesday with an 84-92 victory in Group C. The comeback win pushed the Greens to a 5-3 record and what will be at least a share of third place, while Buducnost fell to 2-6. The game was completely balanced until the last minutes, with 82-84 on the board and 2 minutes to go, but in the final plays, the players of Panathinaikos decided the game, even though the best player for the Greeks was young center Lazaros Papadopoulos, with 12 points and 9 boards. The best scorer for the guests was Antonis Fotsis with 25 points. Fragiskos Alvertis tallied 15, Ibrahim Kutluay and Arriel McDonald 14 each. For Buducnost, John Brown led with 16 points, Ivan Koljevic bagged 15 and Sinisa Kovacevic added 13.
Buducnost started the game on fire, with 6 straight points by John Brown and a triple by Gavrilo Pjovic in only 70 seconds for a 9-2 advantage. The European champions sent out a bit of a surprising starting five, without either Arriel McDonald or Jaka Lakovic. But after the bad start, Greens coach Zeljko Obradovic called on McDonald to replace George Kalaitsis, and with him on the floor, Panathinaikos found its balance. The Greens tied the game 11-11 in minute 6, at the same time that Brown got called for his third foul and Zarko Caparkapa came on to replace him. With no traditional centers in the game for either side, good ball movement by both sides resulted in lots of points pouring through the baskets. Buducnost tried a zone, but fouls were something of a protagonist and both teams shots well from the line and an offensive quarter ended with the visitors ahead by a single point, 28-29.
Obradovic got his own foul, a technical, near the start the second quarter. Teenage guard Ivan Koljevic made both those free throws, then Alexander Smiljanic added a basked on the possession to give Buducnost back the lead at 36-31. That lead expanded to 7 points, 40-33, midway through the quarter as the turnover total for Panathinaikos rose to 8, and then to 42-33 with just 2 minutes left until the half. McDonald and Ibrahim Kutluay were able to add enough points to pull Panathinaikos within 48-42 at the half, but they could not erase the sensation that Buducnost was not intimidated at all against the European champs.
Balance continued into the third quarter, with Fotsis taking over early, scoring 7 of the first 11 points of his team, with a three included. McDonald gave Panathinaikos its first lead in awhile at 54-55, but Brown answered for Buducnost. It was Papadopoulos, with his first 2 points, who gave the Greens a slim lead after 30 minutes, 63-65. The same Papadopoulos would decoided the game in the last 10 minutes. Seeing that the strategy up to that moment was not good enough to win, Obradovic opted for a classic center, and the young talent, one of the Greens' heroes at the last Final Four in Bologna, answered his coach with a series of baskets. Panathinaikos took a six-point lead, 68-74, but one of the 3 threes by Koljevic gave hope back to the hosts, 77-76. It was then when Lakovic appeared with a three-point play, while Smiljanic missed his shot and fouled Papadopoulos. At that point it was clear that the game would slip out of Buducnost's hands, as the experience of the Greek players pulled Panathinaikos out of its precarious situation in the standings.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002