Panathinaikos, which is aiming to make the Final Four on its own court, thrilled the fans there on Thursday by starting the Top 16 with a commanding 84-57 victory over visiting Efes Pilsen in Group F. The Greens not only got a 1-0 start and defended their homecourt but have a 27-point difference that could help later in the round. Efes is not only 0-1, but has to worry about that margin, too. After falling behind in the first 4 minutes, Panathinaikos turned the scoreboard around with an 11-0 run and used its defense to rule the rest of the game. That defense was evident in advantages of 40-33 in rebounds and 6-1 in blocks. Dimos Dikoudis hit 3 of 3 three-point shots on his way to a team-high 20 points and 7 rebounds in just 19 minutes. Ramunas Siskauskas and Tony Delk added 12 each while Kostas Tsartsaris added 11 and 9 rebounds. For Efes, only Horace Jenkins scored in double digits, reaching 21 points despite missing all 6 of his shots in the first half. His 2-for-8 three-point total was symptomatic of his team, however, as Efes made only 5 of 21 from the arc.
Dejan Tomasevic converted a free throw to get the scoreboard started for the Greens, but Ermal Kuqo lifted Efes even higher out of the gate. He started with a post move for the visitors' first basket, then took an assists from Horace Jenkins and added free throws to give Efes an early 3-6 lead. After Panathinaikos had missed 4 of 5 shots from the field, Siskauskas found some space and connected from beyond the arc to give the hosts a 7-6 margin. With both teams flashing some of their trademark defense, scoring suddenly turned into an uphill battle. That lasted until Dimitris Diamantidis took over; the two-time Euroleague top defender scored on a jumper and then fed Tomasevic for a basket and a free throw to boost the lead to 12-6 with 3:16 left in the quarter. Efes continued its dry spell on offense, missing eight consecutive shots, and when Sani Becirovic drove to the basket for Panathinaikos, visiting coach Oktay Mahmuti urgently called a timeout. Finally, sharpshooter Antonio Granger came off the bench to break the ice with a corner triple to pull the guests within 14-9, however on the next possession his shot was rejected by Siskauskas, who went the other way and buried his second three-pointer to bring the crowd to its feet. Efes could not get closer than 19-12 by the end of the quarter.
The second quarter got underway with Nikola Prkacin and Mike Batiste exchanging baskets. Cenk Akyol buried a triple for Efes, while Siskauskas kept Panathinaikos in charge with a layup. Batiste was having trouble against the stifling Efes defense, however Kostas Tsartsaris grabbed his third offensive rebound and managed to beat the buzzer, as the hosts held a 27-19 advantage after 14 minutes. The defenses were not allowing any easy points and midway the quarter, neither team could make shots, accounting for their combined 4-for-25 rate from downtown so far. After another Efes timeout, Panathinaikos was the one that came out in high gear and a triple by Dimos Dikoudis fueled a furious 13-0 run that allowed the Greens to build a commanding 40-22 advantage at halftime. The hosts' defense was too much for Efes so far, as Marcus Haislip was scoreless and Jenkins had missed all of his shots from the field..
With Diamantidis putting his defensive stamp and Dikoudis picking up the scoring, Panathinaikos forged ahead 45-24 early in the third quarter. Efes tried to respond as Nicholas scored a layup while Mustafa Abi stole and finished a fastbreak, but Dikoudis was on fire inside and beyond the arc and restored a 20-point advantage for the hosts after 25 minutes. Eventually Haislip rose up for a thunderous dunk, his first points of the night, pulling Efes within 50-33. However, Panathinaikos was still clearly in charge. Jenkins slashed to the basket, still the hosts capitalized on their domination of the boards and thanks to a three-point play by Tsartsaris extended their lead to 55-37. Efes was now running its offense through Jenkins, which proved a wise decision, yet defensively the guests had lost their composure. As a result, the third quarter ended with Panathinaikos being on the driver's seat, 59-44.
Efes Pilsen looked determined to claw its way back, as Kerem Gonlum got the offensive rebound and scored the basket and a free throw to start the fourth quarter. Delk loaded his three-point pistol, only to be copied by Granger and then Siskauskas gave Panathinaikos a 64-50 lead. The guests were obviously not willing to go down without a fight, however they were struggling offensively and consequently they could not dig out from the double-digit hole. But then Efes stopped paying attention to the Panathinaikos, too. Delk put on a shooting display, scoring 7 points to widen the gap to 77-54 with 3 minutes to play. Although Efes surely wanted to trim the point difference, Dikoudis and Diamantidis made sure that the highly ambitious Greens would only stretch the lead and the hosts cruised to an emphatic 84-57 triumph.
Thursday, February 15, 2007