Basket City has turned a shade of green. Panathinaikos of Athens is going to play for the Euroleague title after downing its mighty rival, Maccabi Tel Aviv, in the first semifinal of the Final Four on Friday by 83-75 behind the fourth-quarter heroics of a certain Top 16 MVP named Dejan Bodiroga. The Greens will go for their third Euroleague crown on Sunday against the winner of the second semifinal, Benetton Treviso or defending champion Kinder Bologna. Bodiroga gave Panathinaikos control of a back-and-forth battle in the late third and early fourth quarter, scoring 12 consecutive points for the Greens to restore the moderate leads they had enjoyed earlier in the game. Bodiroga finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 2 steals, while the inside duo of Darryl Middleton and Lazaros Papadopoulos combined for 24 points to negate what was supposed to be Maccabi's superior inside game. The Greens had also put on a first-quarter three-point shooting display, 5 for 5 from behind the arc. Maccabi's top scorer was Tal Burstein with 16 points off the bench.
Not only was the Panathinaikos inside game the match or better of Maccabi's, but the Greens held down the biggest perimeter threats of Maccabi all game. Arriel McDonald and Anthony Parker were held to 11 points each, and the only other double-digit scorer for Maccabi was Nate Huffman with 16 points. Those five three-pointers by Panathinaikos in the first quarter proved more than Maccabi would make all night, as Derrick Sharp got slowed early with foul trouble. For the winners, Middleton came up with 15 inside points and 5 rebounds, Fragiskos Alvertis 11 points and Papadopoulos 9.
A quick turnover by Huffman on a double-team led to an Alvertis three-pointer to open the game, while McDonald slashed for a layup to get Maccabi on the board. A tip-in by Middleton and post-up floater by Bodiroga put Panathinaikos ahead 7-2. Two quick fouls by Derrick Sharp on Mulaomerovic forced him to be replaced by Tal Burstein, who added four points from the line while Maccabi forced three Panathinaikos turnovers to get within 7-6. Besok, in for Huffman, got a pair of dunks to enliven Maccabi's offense, but they came between three fouls, the last of which was a Middleton three-point play that made it 14-12. McDonald then rose up for a three-pointer to give Maccabi its first lead 14-15. The Panathinaikos answer was quick and impressive. Alvertis three-pointer. Kutluay three-pointer plus foul shot. Kutluay three-pointer. Mulaomerovic three-pointer. Four possessions in a row, four huge shots for a 27-20 Panathinaikos lead. Burstein, who would lead all scorers with 10 points in the quarter, got to the hoop one more time to keep Maccabi close at 27-23 after 10 minutes. The 5-for-5 three-point shooting by the Greens had it looking like much less of a defensive struggle than expected.
Those defenses did appear early in the second quarter, putting a choke on any real scoring until the next Panathinaikos three-pointer, off the hands of Johnny Rogers. That started a 9-3 run for the Greens that gave them their second-biggest lead of the game, 36-30. But that's when Maccabi got into shooting mode itself. Anthony Parker, quiet until then, popped Maccabi's first three-pointer and followed it with the mid-range jumper that had been failing him until then. Derrick Sharp and Burstein rained their own threes to pull Maccabi back within 42-41. Parker then raised up for the last shot from behind the arc in the half. Like most of the others, it fell and the battle most people expected between these old warriors was locked in a 44-44 tie. Burstein was still leading all scorers with 14 points, while Alvertis was up to 11 for Panathinaikos.
Tied it was, and basically tied the score stayed through 8 minutes of the third quarter, with neither team leading for more than one possession, as bodies flew inside and outside the paint. Huffman got involved with two inside baskets for Maccabi. He and Gur Shelef combined for 9 of Maccabi's first 11 points of the quarter. Meanwhile, Middleton and Bodiroga shared all 12 of the Greens'. All it got either team was a two-point lead, at most, through 8 minutes, until Middleton's fourth basket of the quarter made it 60-56 and Bodiroga followed with a turnaround in the lane for a 62-55 Panathinaikos lead. McDonald, who was held almost shotless for long stretches, got a steal and fastbreak layup, but that only managed to bring Maccabi within 62-57 after 30 minutes.
The fourth quarter was Bodiroga time in terms of scoring. He began it with a three-pointer, then got to the hoop for two and finished a fastbreak on a turnover by Parker. The five-point lead they started the quarter with held at 69-64 five minutes later. Then the Top 16 MVP squared up from the top of the arc, and down went another three-pointer for a 72-65 Panathinaikos lead. When young Lazaros Papadopoulos finished another break for a three-point play, Maccabi looked in trouble, down 75-67 with barely 4 minutes to go. Hope came with back-to-back baskets by Parker and Burstein. Maccabi fouled Papadopoulos, who made two free throws, but Huffman could only make one of his at the other end. With 1 minute, 26 seconds to go, Damir Mulaomerovic emerged from his support role for a driving layup, was fouled and made the free throw. It was 80-72 with 1:26 to go, and Maccabi had been missing from outside all night. This would be a night painted green, not yellow.
Friday, May 3, 2002