Tau Ceramica survived its first do-or-die battle of the Quarterfinal Playoffs and retained hope for a Final Four return by downing Panathinaikos 85-79 at home in Vitoria, Spain in Game 2 of their best-of-three series on Thursday. Tau tied the series 1-1. The decisive third and final game will be played next Wednesday in Athens, with the winner advancing to the 2006 Final Four in Prague starting April 28. Travis Hansen led the winners with 21 points. Luis Scola added 20 on 9-for-12 shooting, Tiago Splitter had 17 on 7-for-8 shooting, Serkan Erdogan scored 11 points and Casey Jacobsen 10 for Tau Ceramica. Vassilis Spanoulis led the way for the Greens with 20 points. Jaka Lakovic added 14 points and Dejan Tomasevic 13 for the visitors, who reallied from 11 points down to get as close as 74-72 midway through the final period. Jacobsen stepped up with a three-point play while Hansen hit a critical triple to help Tau regain control in the final 2 minutes and send the series back to Athens for a make-or-break game.
Panathinaikos came up strong in early as Mike Batiste opened fire with a monster slam dunk that gave the visitors their first lead at 2-0. The Greens repeated the same strong defense they had played in the series opener in Athens, preventing Tau from scoring for the first 2 minutes. However, on the other end, Panathinaikos struggled to score also, due to poor shooting. As such, Tau managed to take a 9-7 lead with 6 points from Scola midway through the first quarter. Even though Batiste drew a flagrant foul on Hansen, Panathinaikos was unable to stop Tau's roll, as Scola and Splitter increased the margin to 13-7, forcing a timeout by the visitors. Nikos Hatzivrettas ended the Panathinaikos drought with a short jumper that sparked a 0-6 run, tying things up 13-13. Tau didn't lose its grip, however, and reacted with a three-pointer from Hansen and free throws by Erdogan to go up 20-15. Dimitris Diamantidis scored a layup to reduce the gap, but Splitter earned a basket-plus-free throw to keep Tau leading 23-17 after 10 minutes.
Splitter upped the difference on a fastbreak dunk to start the second quarter, but Panathinaikos managed to find Tomasevic in the paint and prevent the hosts from escaping. Even while Tomasevic, a former Tau player, ruled under the boards, Panathinaikos kept shooting poorly from long-distance, allowing Tau to stay ahead, 30-22. Spanoulis came to the rescue with his first triple of the night but Sergi Vidal copied it for Tau, which retained a 37-29 lead late in the quarter. After another Panathinaikos timeout, Tau remained scoreless for a couple minutes, but again, the Greens took advantage with just a couple of free throws. There was still time for Hansen to answer, too. His three-point bomb from the corner and left-handed layup regained Tau a comfortable 42-35 edge at halftime.
Diamantidis opened fire with a turnaround jumper after intermission, but his flagrant foul let Hansen collect 4 points at the line - Tau's first since the break - to make it 46-37 after 22 minutes. The visitors seemed to lose power on defense as Tau reached a double digit margin, 50-40, on a layup by Jacobsen. The Greens finally reacted, with back-to-back threes by Lakovic and Hatzivrettas, but Jacobsen and Scola stayed calm and scored for Tau. Although Panathinaikos kept struggling, the visitors pushed hard on defense while Spanoulis and Fragiskos Alvertis reduced the gap to 61-55 after 27 minutes. Tau didn't panic and answered with Splitter and Erdogan, whose jumpers supplied a 65-56 advantage. Spanoulis and Tomasevic answered with back-to-back baskets before Erdogan's acrobatic basket-plus-free throw pushed Tau in front, 68-60 after three quarters.
Tau went scoreless for the first 2 minutes of the last quarter as Lakovic put on his own show with an amazing baseline hook shot and an eight-meter buzzer-beating three-pointer. . When Tomasevic followed with a layup, Panathinaikos had a 0-7 run and was suddenly within 68-67, forcing a Tau timeout. Splitter brought the crowd out of their seats by coming back with a three-point play inside shot followed by a monster block and fastbreak layup to put Tau back in charge, 73-67. Lakovic free throws and a triple by Spanoulis ended the crowd's fun, however, as Panathinaikos was now as close as 74-72 after 36 minutes. Jacobsen came to the rescue for Tau with a steal and a basket-plus-free throw for a 77-72 score. The game was a thriller, but Tau handled the situation thanks to a three-pointer by Hansen and a hook shot by Scola that meant a lead of 82-78 entering the final minute. Even though Tomasevic reduced the gap with free throws, but Erdogan and Hansen hit theirs in the closing seconds, too, sending the series back to Athens.
Thursday, April 6, 2006