The proof that anything can happen in the Top 16 was proven once again as Cibona outlasted visiting powerhouse Panathinikos 72-70 on Thursday in Zagreb in the Group G opener for both teams. Cibona, the last Top 16 qualifier, shares the group lead with Efes, while top seed Panathinaikos is 0-1 with Benetton Treviso. Cibona led most of a close game and even managed to forge double-digit leads in the second half before Panathinaikos rallied from 9 points down with 5 minutes left. Nikos Hatzivrettas scored 8 points in 90 seconds of a 0-12 run that put the Greens ahead 67-70 going in to the final minute. Cibona's game-long leader, Scoonie Penn, tied on the next play, a layup-plus-free throw, before Davor Kus and Davor Marcelic split a pair of free throws each to win it. Panathinaikos had a final possession with 5 seconds left but Jaka Lakovic didn't get off a shot before the clock expired. Penn was stellar from start to finish, ending with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 11 fouls drawn. Davor Kus joined him in double digits with 13 points for Cibona. For the Greens, Lakovic nailed 18 points, Hatzivrettas 14 and Vassilis Spanoulis 13. Mike Batiste also added 8 points and 10 rebounds, although Cibona won the overall rebounding battle 35-25.
Defenses were the protagonists in the first plays of the game and it wasn't until 90 seconds after tipoff that Batiste nailed free throws to put the guests again 0-2. Then, the Panathinaikos defensive pressure forced a steal that ended in Lakovic bombing from the arc. Penn went to the line also for Cibona's first two points, but Batiste was fed inside by Kostas Tsarstaris for a dunk and a 2-7 Panathinaikos lead. Penn wouldn't let Cibona slide and hit a triple before newcomer Chris Warren scored his first points for Cibona to make it 7-9. An unsportsmanlike foul called on Dimitris Diamantidis allowed Penn to tie the score with free throws, but the Greens woke up fast and forged a 0-5 run that Diamantidis capped with a layup at 9-14. Again, Penn saved Cibona, blasting a new three-pointer to give him 10 points already. When Damir Rancic copied him, Cibona had its first lead of the night, 15-14. David Kus hopped off the bench and joined the three-point fun to keep Cibona in front, 19-18, after 10 minutes.
Vassilis Spanoulis opened the second quarter with a layup to put Panathinaikos ahead, but Benett Davison and Penn shared 3 free throws to reclaim a 22-20 advantage for Cibona. Panathinaikos struggled on offense now, while Cibona got another three-pointer from Kus on the way to a 28-22 scoreboard that forced a timeout by the visitors. Lakovic immediately woke up the Greens with a triple, but Davor Marcelic answered with the same shot and Jurica Zuza scored inside against his old team for Cibona's biggest lead yet, 33-26. Rebounds were playing a big factor, too, as Cibona then held a 14-5 edge on the boards, but just when they looked in trouble, the Greens roared to life. Lakovic and Spanoulis blasted a three-pointer each in a sudden 0-7 burst that allowed Panathinaikos tie 37-37 in what seemed like a matter of seconds. Penn got the lead back for Cibona at the free throw line, but Batiste dunked to re-tie before Damir Markota's first basket preserved a 41-40 advantage for the hosts at the half.
Tsarstaris opened the second half with Panathinaikos' fifth triple but Mate Skelin replied in the paint for Cibona to tie the score one more time at 43-43. Both teams tried to play faster than the other, and Cibona got the best of it when Penn, Marcelic and Davison stepped up for 7 points to push the hosts ahead again, 52-47. Panathinaikos captain Fragiskos Alvertis stepped on court to try to command the Greens, but an incredible put back by Skelin and a new bucket by Penn resulted in Cibona's biggest lead yet, 57-47. Lakovic re-appeared with a new triple, but Panathinaikos still had problems on defense, where Cibona always found a way to the basket, and on the boards, where the visitors were getting out-rebounded almost by double. A great spin move by Davison in the lane ended with a dunk and put an end to the third quarter with Cibona ahead 61-54 and looking confident.
The last period quarter started slow, with only a free throw by Spanoulis for 3 minutes Damir Rancic hit a triple from the side for a 64-55 Cibona lead. Spanoulis matched him, but when Skelin fed Damir Markota for a dunk the Zagreb fans could tast the win in their reach at 67-58 with 5 minutes left. Batiste quieted them with his own dunk. After 2 more scoreless minutes, Hatzivrettas broke the silence with a corner triple to make it 67-63. Just as quickly, a basket by Lakovic and a three-point play by Hatzivrettas suddenly put the Greens ahead by a point, 67-68, with 75 seconds to go. Penn tried to combine with Davison but the ball went out of bounds and Hatzivrettas drove for another basket and a 67-70 Panathinaikos lead with 45 seconds to go. Penn took charge again, driving and getting fouled for a three-point play that supplied Cibona's first points in more than 2 minutes and tied 70-70. The Greens lost the ball in the following play and immediately fouled Kus. He made 1 of 2 tries, while at the other end, Spanoulis missed a quick triple attempt. Marcelic was fouled on the rebound and hit 1 of his 2 free throws to make it 72-70. The Greens had 9 seconds to shoot, but Lakovic apparently didn't see that time was running out and kept looking for space to shoot when the buzzer rang and the fans in Zagreb celebrated a big first win in the Top 16.
Thursday, February 23, 2006