Laboral sweeps Panathinaikos for return to Final Four!
Back to the court from which it reached the Final Four a decade ago, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz did it again Tuesday, defeating host Panathinaikos Athens 75-84 before a packed crowd at Olympic Sports Center Athens to sweep their best-of-five playoff series 3-0 and punch a ticket to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague's crowning event in Berlin, Germany next month! Laboral drilled 7 of 8 three-point shots in the game's last 8 minutes to run away with what had been a back-and-forth battle until then. Laboral's victory meant, however, that the Euroleague career of legend Dimitris Diamantidis, who plans to retire at the end of the season, ended with a loss as Panathinaikos was booted from the playoffs for the fourth season running. Diamantidis finished with 2,495 career points, 1 behind his former teammate Mike Batiste, for sixth place on the all-time scoring list and, with 2 rebounds, tied Denis Marconato for 10th place. it will be Laboral that returns to the Final Four for the first time since 2008, however, as Darius Adams scored 14 of his 24 points in the last quarter and Mike James followed with 20 total. Davis Bertans had 13 points for the winners, while Ioannis Bourousis had 9 and 6 assists. Miroslav Raduljica led Panathinaikos with 13 points and 8 rebounds, while James Gist and Elliot Williams scored 11 each. Diamantidis, the Euroleague's career leader in assists and steals, finished with 8 points and 7 assists. Laboral won despite the ongoing absences of injured starters Fabien Causeur and Adam Hanga.
First quarter: No pulling away for either team
Adams drove for a fall-back runner to open the scoring before Raduljica answered inside. Vladimir Jankovic dropped free throws, Nick Calathes threw a long pass to Gist for a fastbreak reverse and Jankovic drilled a long jumper to suddenly put Panathinaikos ahead 8-2. Adams, Darko Planinic and Jaka Blazic made 2 free throws each for Laboral, while Jankovic made 1 of 2 for the hosts, closing the gap to 9-8. Calathes got in the scoring column with a layup that Blazic matched on a fastbreak before Bertans hit 1 of 2 free throws for an 11-11 tie. Ognjen Kuzmic climbed off the Panathinaikos bench and took back the lead, but Bourousis did the same to tie for the visitors. Adams got loose for a go-ahead layup for Laboral that was countered by Antonis Fotsis coming off the baseline for a dunk. When Kuzmic hit another jump hook, Panathinaikos was back in front, 17-15. Bourousis hit 2 foul shots to tie and Bertans blasted his team's first three-pointer from the corner for the difference in a 17-20 Laboral lead after 10 minutes.
Second quarter: Laboral lengthen lead
Fotsis cut back door for one basket and tipped in another as Panathinaikos regained the lead, 21-20. But James sped to the basket to take it back and then Bourousis fed Bertans with an over-the-shoulder pass to make it 21-24. Raduljica tied it on a three-point play, but James matched him with a single shot to keep Laboral in front. Williams downed 2 free throws for Panathinaikos, but another triple flew for Laboral, this from the hands of Alberto Corbacho, to make it 26-30. Bertans went to the free throw line next, made both, and Laboral had its biggest lead yet, 26-32. Raduljica turned on the baseline and detonated a dunk but Bourousis passed to the corner for a triple by James and then Bertans made 3 of 3 free throws for the first double-digit lead, 28-38. Diamantidis fed Calathes for one layup and Raduljica another to calm the hosts. James got 2 points back with free throws, then took a steal all the way for a dunk and another double-digit difference, 32-42. Fotsis hit free throws before Jankovic fed Diamantidis for a transition triple that cut the distance although the half ended 37-42 in favor of the guests.
Third quarter: Greens rally, but Laboral doesn't break
Bourousis threaded a pass to Adams for a layup to start the second half. Jankovic drilled a three-pointer and Williams hit 2 of 4 free throws as Panathinaikos edged closer, 42-44. Williams completed the comeback with a fall-back jumper at 44-44. After Bourousis canned a shot from the lane, Williams fed Raduljica for a layup. James answered with his own fall-back jumper and then Bertans stole a pass and waltzed the other way for a dunk at 46-50. Jankovic made a tip-in for Panathinaikos, Adams answered with a face-up jumper, but then Williams was on the mark with a triple to make it 51-52. Diamantidis took the honor of hitting the go-ahead shot, a long two-pointer. Bertans fed Kim Tillie in close to take the lead again for Laboral, then Kuzmic reclaimed it for the Greens with free throws, 55-54. Darko Planinic put back an offensive rebound as the lead changed hands once more on the last basket of the third quarter for a 55-56 Laboral advantage.
Fourth quarter: Adams, James shoot lights out until Berlin!
Diamantidis lobbed to Vince Hunter for an alley-oop layup to open the fourth quarter before Planinic repeated himself with a put-back as Laboral led again. Diamantidis rifled a pass to Gist for an easy layup, but Adams was ready with a triple and a three-point play the hard way for the visitors to lead 59-64. After a timeout, Corbacho blasted from the corner for a 59-67 score. Raduljica dropped a jump hook, but Adams was back with another triple and then a fall-back baseline jumper at 63-72. Gist buried a three-pointer to give Panathinaikos new hope at 66-72 with under 5 minutes left. Diamantidis came out of nowhere for an offensive rebound and assist to Gist for a slam at 68-72, but after a timeout, Adams was unstoppable with a triple from behind a screen at 68-75. Bourousis returned with a monster block as Gist tried to dunk, then went the other way and hit a triple at 68-78. Gist got a basket inside, but Adams fed James for a triple and, when Diamantidis did the same, James came back with another one to make it 73-84 with a minute to go. It was time for the Panathinaikos fans to get on their feet and serenade Diamantidis, who left the game to a standing ovation, a similar one to what awaits Laboral when it gets home to Vitoria.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016