Partizan came out on top over Panathinaikos 63-56 in an epic Group G battle in front of a record 22,567 fans on Thursday at Belgrade Arena in the Serbian capital. Partizan used a 10-0 run that bridged the third and fourth periods to pull ahead for good and even threatened the 17-point margin that Panathinaikos had achieved in their first matchup of the Top 16 before the Greens rallied late behind Dimitris Diamantidis. Panathinaikos's first loss of the Top 16 coupled with the fourth straight win for Partizan sees the two sides tied for first place in the group at 4-1. Panathinaikos will win the group if it beats Unicaja at home next week or it Partizan falls at Lottomatica Roma. There were many heroes for the hosts, starting with Uros Tripkovic and Stephane Lasme, who paced the attack with 12 points apiece. Lasme also came up big on defense with 3 blocked shots. February MVP Novica Velickovic added 10 points, while Zarko Rakocevic had 6 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and the key plays in the aforementioned 10-0 run and teenager Jan Vesely scored 9 –including a big three in the fourth quarter –excelled on defense and played a team-high 30 minutes. Diamantidis carried Panathinaikos with a career-high 21 points plus 5 rebounds and 4 steals and Antonis Fotsis and Nikola Pekovic added 10 each. Partizan;s defense also help big man Mike Batsiste scoreless for the first time in nearly five years.
Pekovic opened the scoring when he went around former teammate Slavko Vranes for a basket. Vranes remained at the focus as he had a rebound stripped from him by Diamantidis for a score before he recorded Partizan's first basket. The incredible atmosphere did not seem to help the shooters on either team. Finally Diamantidis stepped up with a triple to make it 2-7. Milenko Tepic got the crowd singing with a basket-plus-foul and Tripkovic’s baby hook made it a 1-point game. Sarunas Jasikevicius and Tepic traded threes as the pace picked up. Partizan managed to hold Panathinaikos on defense, but a pair of offensive fouls on Lasme silenced its own attack. Velickovic’s first basket was a triple that knotted the score at 12-12. A Vassilis Spanoulis free throw made it 12-13 after 10 minutes of action.
Tripkovic gave Partizan its first lead of the night from the free-throw line, but Batiste put quickly the visitors back on top. Diamantidis swooped in for a steal that resulted in a foul and 2 free throws only for a red-hot Tripkovic to drill a triple at the other end that tied the score. Diamantidis matched his magic with a three-point play in the paint and PAO increased the lead when Spanoulis scored in transition. Partizan head coach Dusko Vujosevic was whistled for a technical foul for protesting the lack of a foul call fir Jan Vesely. Diamantidis sank the free throws to make it 17-24. Kostas Tsartsaris rifled in a three from the corner to stretch the lead to double figures. Vranes responded with a rare long shot, Aleksandar Rasic followed from downtown and Lasme swatted a Tsartsaris shot to the delight of the crowd. A minute later, Lasme spun inside and drew a foul to cut the deficit to 3. Pekovic banked in a shot at the other end, but Partizan raced down court in the final seconds and Petar Bozic fed Vesely for a dunk at the buzzer to cap a low-scoring, but very exciting first half with the visitors ahead 26-29.
The defenses owned the show early in the third quarter with Lasme rising to block another shot. Jasikevicius was called for an offensive foul and then a technical for arguing, which allowed Tripkovic to convert 2 from the line. A Velickovic tip-in put Partizan ahead 30-29, but Pekovic drew a foul and scored 2 at the other end. The lead continued to switch hands as Lasme buried a jumper and Antonis Fotsis fired in a three. Pekovic put PAO up by 4 only to see Lasme – surrounded by four Greens – battle for a basket and foul. Spanoulis stepped up and scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 35-40. Rakocevic’s put-back and Lasme’s tough basket in transition brought Partizan right back. Rakocevic flipped in a basket inside to put the hosts on top 41-40 bringing the excitement to new heights heading into the deciding period.
Rakocevic shined with some of the biggest minutes of his career, throwing down an alley-oop slam in transition and then swatting a Spanoulis at the other end as the din reach a peak. Rakocevic went to the well once more, but missed, however Vesely swooped in for the offensive rebound, was fouled, and capped a 10-0 run with 2 free throws. Pekovic ended the Greens' drought, but only when Rakocevic's block attempt was deemed goal-tending. A Velickovic three made it 48-42, but the home team’s momentum would soon suffer a blow when Tepic limped off the floor with a knee injury. After a timeout, Velckovic further extended the Partizan lead. Diamantidis tried to rescue Panathinaikos with a pair of free throws, but Tripkovic nailed a wild triple to put Partizan up by 9. Rakocevic started perhaps the prettiest play off the night with an alley-oop pass to Vesely as Partizan began to eye the big win it needed for first place. Rasic sliced the Greens’ defense for another basket to make it 57-44. Fotsis muscled his way to a basket and a minute later Diamantidis fired in a clutch three-pointer. Vesely got the arena rocking again with a triple, however Diamantidis came through with free throws and then Fotsis threw down a dunk on the break as Panathinaikos squashed Partizan’s momentum. Diamantidis made it a 5-point game and set a career-high in points when he netted 2 more from the line. Lasme made a free throw for the hosts, but with time winding down it began looking clear: Partizan would win, but not by a big enough margin to take first place, which would be decided only in Week 6.
Thursday, March 5, 2009