With 18,000 fans behind it at OAKA Olympic arena in Athens, Panathinaikos moved halfway to the Final Four with an 84-72 victory over visiting Tau Ceramica on Tuesday in the first game of their quarterfinal series. The two Final Four teams from last year will play Game 2 in Vitoria, Spain in Thursday, and if the Greens win that, the series is theirs. The opener was close throughout, but Panathinaikos finished with an 8-2 run in the final 3 minutes to make it look easier. Mike Batiste hit a triple to settle all doubt with a minute left and finished with a team-high 15 points for the winners. Dejan Tomasevic and Vasilis Spanoulis added 13 each, while Vlado Scepanovic scored 11 points for Panathinaikos, which won despite a 24-40 rebounding disadvantage. Luis Scola scored 20 points and kept Tau as close as 72-70 late in the game before running out of answers. Travis Hansen added 17 points, Tiago Splitter 12 and Kornel David 10 for the guests.
Panathinaikos got the scoreboard rolling with a Diamantidis free throw, but Tau quickly went inside to Scola for a turnaround jumper and to Hansen on the arc for a triple that put the guests ahead 3-5. Thanks to a flagrant foul and swarming defense, the Greens raced ahead 10-5 behind 4 points by Diamantidis and a slam in transition by Mike Batiste. Tau responded with a triple from Kornel David, yet Diamantidis was ever-present on defense, allowing Nikos Hatzivrettas to finish the break with authority as the Greens ran ahead 15-8. After a timeout and another turnover by Tau, Spanoulis added to the Panathinaikos lead by flashing for another lay-up in transition that boosted the margin into double digits, at 19-8. Splitter came off the bench and let Tau breathe with some inside points, however Kostas Tsartsaris bettered him with a triple at the other end. Tau was not ready to mail in the quarter, however. Hansen teamed with Serkan Erdogan for a pair of strikes from downtown that cut the Panathinaikos lead to 24-21 after 10 minutes.
A triple by Hatzivrettas opened the second quarter, but Splitter produced a three-point play to keep Tau within 27-24. Dejan Tomacevic scored in the paint and then Fragiskos Alvertis loaded his three-point gun to give the Greens a 32-24 lead, which led Tau to switch to zone defense. While the Greens struggled with that, Scola caused some trouble with 4 points during a 2-8 surge that puleed Tau within 34-32. Soon, a three-point bomb by Lionel Chalmers tied the game at 35-35 and Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic called timeout to regroup his forces. And so he did. Lakovic converted free throws, Batiste who scored on a pivot move and Vlado Scepanovic capped the host's 7-0 run with a triple for a 42-35 edge. Splitter muscled his way for an offensive rebound and scored but in the following possession Chalmers committed an offensive foul, which allowed Panathinaikos to reach halftime ahead by 43-37.
The second half got underway with Tau abandoning the zone and Spanoulis welcoming the change with a drive through the defense. David and Tomacevic exchanged points and then Splitter added free throws for Tau to make it 46-41. Both teams relied on their frontcourt players until Hansen knocked down a long jumper. When Splitter added a basket and a free throw, the guests had pulled within 49-46 midway through the quarter. Diamantidis and Scola entered the game then, and Tau switched back to zone, as both coaches turned the court into tactical battlefield. A jumper by Spanoulis widened the gap to 55-48, but Scola scored in traffic and David added more free throws for Tau. A monstrous dunk by Batiste was followed by another basket from Scola that made it 57-54. Soon, an offensive rebound by Scola and a layup by Erdogan tied it 58-58, but Panathinaikos got the last word of the quarter. A second triple of the night for Scepanovic let the crowd explode and gave the Greens a 61-58 lead after 30 minutes.
The fourth period commenced with the OAKA crowd on their feet, and after a drive by Diamantidis, roaring with satisfaction. Nevertheless, Scola turned up his game in a big way and with smooth moves kept Tau's chances intact at 65-64. However, a triple by Jaka Lakovic made it 68-64 and later Spanoulis raced to add a layup for the Greens. Scola answered with back-to-back baskets to make it a two-point game again, 72-70. Tomacevic made his own power move and when Scola missed for a change, Scepanovic scored on the fastbreak for Panathinaikos, leading now 76-70 with 3 minutes left. Tau looked for offensive help for Scola but couldn't find anyone as Tomacevic hit free throws and Batiste sealed the huge victory with a decisive triple from the corner with a minute left.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006