Panathinaikos took a major step to become the Group C champion by edging AXA FC Barcelona 55-56 in Spain on Thursday. Panathinaikos leads Group C with the best record in the entire competition, 10-1. Meanwhile, Barcelona ties with archrivals Real Madrid for the second place at 8-3. Madrid hosts Barcelona next week in a highly-anticipated showdown. Kostas Tsartsaris paced the winners with 20 points on 5-for-9 three-pointers and 8 rebounds, but Vassilis Spanoulis became the game hero with the go-ahead three-pointer with 31.8 seconds remaining. Roger Grimau had 17 points on 6-for-7 two-pointers and 7 rebounds for Barcelona, that used a 14-0 run to get its only double-digit margin, 29-18, late in the second quarter. Dimitris Diamantidis brought Panathinaikos within 31-23 at halftime, while Demos Dikoudis and Nikos Hatzivrettas stroke from downtown in a 0-9 run that gave the Greens a 40-44 edge. It all came down to the final seconds, a Spanoulis gave Panathinaikos a 54-55 edge. Diamantidis made 1-for-2 free throws, but so did Grimau in the other end. Barcelona had a chance to win the game, but Jaka Lakovic and Gianluca Basile missed respective off-balanced shots in the final seconds.
Mario Kasun opened the scoring with a jump hook that Tsartsaris erased with free throws. Both teams tried man-to-man defense, with Diamantidis guarding Lakovic just as expected, while it was Basile who tried to do his best against Diamantidis. Lakovic banked in a three-pointer but Kennedy Winston scored in penetration to keep Panathinaikos within 5-4. The Greens dominated the defensive board but Kasun fed Fran Vazquez for a big dunk and intimidated Winston in the other end. Basile found his first points but Tsartsaris hit his trademark corner triple for a 9-7 Panathinaikos deficit. Vazquez scored again, as Barcelona tried to slow down the game tempo in the opening quarter. Basile found his first points but Panathinaikos kept running its offense through Tsartsaris, who fired in his second three-pointer to keep the Greens within 11-10. Diamantidis gave Panathinaikos its first lead, 11-12, but a layup by Kasun immediately put the hosts back ahead, 13-12. Tsartsaris followed a free throw with his third bomb from downtown to give Panathinaikos a 15-16 edge after 10 minutes.
Sarunas Jasikevicius, back in Palau Blaugrana for the first time in almost four years, fed Mike Batiste for a big dunk early in the second quarter, but Barcelona was about to regain its game momentum through an outstanding Grimau. Panathinaikos struggled to score against the hosts' well-adjusted defense, while Grimau provided a highlight with a fast break dunk and soon added a big basket in penetration for a 19-18 Barcelona lead. A turnover by Jasikevicius allowed Grimau to send the crowd to their feet with a layup-plus-foul. Panathinaikos went scoreless for 6 minutes, missing 11 consecutive shots and committing 3 turnovers in the process. Meanwhile, Marconato banked in a close jumper while Trias added a fast break dunk for a 26-18 Barcelona lead. Panathinaikos struggled at both ends now, while Lakovic fired in his second three-pointer to cap a game-changing 14-0 run, making coach Zeljko Obradovic call timeout at 29-18. Diamantidis stepped up with a much-needed three-pointer and soon scored in transition to bring Panathinaikos back to life, 29-23. An unstoppable Grimau beat the buzzer with another basket to give Barcelona a 31-23 halftime edge.
The Greens improved their defense after the break but its shooters - 4-for-23 two-pointers in the first half - remained off-target. Grimau kept pacing Barcelona with another basket but a running jumper by Jasikevicius and another three-pointer by Tsartsaris got Panathinaikos within 33-28. Basile quickly answered with a bomb from downtown but Spanoulis found his first points from the free throw line. Kasun beat the shot clock with a turnaround jumper but free throws by Jasikevicius and Spanoulis kept Panathinaikos close, 38-33. Barcelona kept dominating the defensive board but had troubles to score. Spanoulis stepped up with a fast break layup that Denis Marconato erased in the other end. Panathinaikos was a different team in defense now, while Dikoudis stroke from downtown to make Barcelona call timeout at 40-39. Batiste made free throws to complete the guests' comeback, 40-41. Hatzivrettas sank a wide open triple that capped a 0-9 Panathinaikos run and gave the Greens a 40-44 edge. Alex Acker made free throws while Basile beat the buzzer with a six-meter jumper for a 44-44 tie after 30 minutes.
Lakovic drew a foul and calmly made 3 free throws to restore a 47-44 Barcelona lead. Panathinaikos did not find the way to the basket for 3 long minutes, while Pepe Sanchez buried a six-meter jumper and Grimau beat the shot clock with a wild turnaround shot that capped an 11-0 run for a 51-44 Barcelona edge. Panathinaikos called timeout and Tsartsaris stepped up with a power layup to bring the Greens back to life. Hatzivrettas silenced the crowd with another bomb from downtown while Tsartsaris added a corner three-pointer - his fifth - to put Panathinaikos back ahead, 51-52. Grimau stepped up with a big triple for a 54-52 Barcelona lead with 3 minutes to go. Spanoulis missed around the basket but Marconato missed a wide open jumper in the other end. Diamantidis, Basile and Lakovic also missed respective shots but Spanoulis fired in a critical three-pointer with a 54-55 Panathinaikos edge with 31.8 seconds remaining. Grimau committed a turnover while Barcelona opted to foul on Diamantidis, who made 1-for-2 foul shots with 14.9 seconds to go. Grimau was next on the line, missing his second shot with 8.2 seconds to go. Diamantidis had a big block on Lakovic while Basile missed an off-balanced seven-meter bomb at the buzzer.
Thursday, January 10, 2008