Beating their opponents at their own game, Panathinaikos rained three-pointers on Benetton on Thursday to take an 82-75 home victory at Athens in the first Top 16 Group F game for both teams. The Greens launched 30 triples and made 12, double those of Benetton. Fragiskos Alvertis led five Panathinaikos scorers in double figures with 17 points, to which he added 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Arriel McDonald added 14 points, Nikos Hatzivrettas and Jaka Lakovic 12 each, Kostas Tsartsaris 11 points and 8 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Panathinaikos defense put the breaks on Benetton as only Tyus Edney, with 18 points, and Maurice Evans, with 11, reached double figures. Its first loss of any kind in six weeks was badly-timed for Benetton, who was coming off an Italian Cup victory, but whose Group F record is now 0-1.
Benetton started the game trying to impose its own fast rhythm, and was successful at both ends of the floor. Thanks to great defense and 5 quick points by Garbajosa, Benetton jumped ahead 0-5. Soon, the visitors extended the lead by more than double, to 4-12, as Edney was proving too much to handle for the Greens' defense. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic called his first timeout after 4 minute and Panathinaikos added more pressure to their defense in the form of low-post traps. At the same time, Benetton coach Ettore Messina - who received a standing ovation during the pre-game presentations, used a lot of zones, such as 1-3-1 and 2-3, even a box-and-one defense against Lakovic. Thanks to 6 points from Tsartsaris, the hosts cut the margin to 12-16, but Benetton had the appropriate answers and never lost the lead. At the end of the first quarter, the visitors still led, 18-21, but the Greens were back in the hunt.
No sooner did the second quarter start than Alvertis hit a three-pointer to tie, 21-21, and Darryl Middleton gave Panahinaikos its very first lead, 23-21. The hosts continued on a 10-0 run to a 26-21 lead as Jaka Lakovic joined in with a three-pointer, but Benetton didn't allow the Greens to escape further. Ricardo Pittis surprisingly nailed 3 of 3 free throws, Marcelo Nikola sank a three-pointer and Garbajosa added 2 points in an 0-8 reaction with which Benneton retook the lead at 26-29. The teams kept measuring each other. When Massimo Bulleri hit another triple for 32-36, Mike Batiste copied hime to keep Panathinaikos close. The visitors returned once again to a zone defense and Panathinaikos played again with three perimeter players and Alvertis at power forward. The captain of the Greens scored the go-ahead basket at 37-36, but first Pittis and then Bulleri, with another three-pointer, allowed Benetton to close the first half with a four-point advantage, 37-41.
Edney opened the Benetton lead to 37-43 with a pair of free throws to sart the second half, but Panathinaikos didn't give up. Obradovic decided to play a zone defense, and the Greens immediately and successfully reacted. McDonald, Nikos Hatzivrettas and Lakovic hit consecutive three-pointers for a 9-0 run and a 46-63 lead. Lakovic then bagged another big triple for a seven-point margin, 54-47, but now it was Benneton turn to retake the momentum. Edney, supported by Denis Marconato, inspired his teammates by creating fastbreak opportunities which allowed the Italian visitors to score 9 unanswered points and take a 54-56 lead after 28 minutes. Alvertis took it back with another big three for 57-56, and McDonald scored a jumper at the buzzer to give the Greens a 61-59 lead after 30 minutes.
Too proud to die, the Greens not only kept their concentration and defensive spirit, but also punished Benetton's zone defense in the fourth quarter. Lakovic bagged another three-pointer for 64-59, while Benetton went five plays without scoring against the Panathinaikos zone. The home lead soared up to 71-64 thanks to an incredible three-pointer hit by Alvertis down the stretch. Panathinaikos continued in zone defense and Benetton kept missing its outside shots. When McDonald nailed 5 consecutive points in less than 30 seconds, the Greens had a 76-67 edge with 3 minutes left. Hatzivrettas finished an outstanding coast-to-coast drive for 78-69 and Panathinaikos was on its way to a first Top 16 victory, protecting its home court and keeping hopes alive for the Final Four in Tel Aviv.
Thursday, March 4, 2004