Panathinaikos stopped Unicaja 98-77
Turkish Airlines Euroleague champion Panathinaikos looked none the worse for a rough training camp when it opened its title defense by thrashing Unicaja of Spain 98-77 at home in Athens on Thursday. The Greens, who were missing Stratos Perperoglou and Kostas Tsartsaris due to injury, showed that their offense is finely tuned and their defense can rise to any occasion. They turned a 52-49 halftime lead into a blowout by starting the third and fourth quarters with stifling defense. Reigning MVP Dimitris Diamantidis led seven Panathinaikos scorers in double figures with 17 points, 7 assists and 3 steals. Romain Sato followed with 16 points, Kostas Kaimakoglou and Steven Smith 13 each, Nick Calathes 12 and Sarunas Jasikevicius 10. The Greens made 12 of 19 three-pointers overall, with Diamaintidis, Kaimakoglou, Smith and Jasikevicius going 9 for 9 without a miss. For Unicaja, Kristaps Valters and Hrvoje Peric came off the bench for 13 points each, while Nenad Sinanovic had 11 and Earl Rowland 10.
Joel Freelend went strong for the game's opening basket, was answered in kind by Aleks Maric, but scored again to put Unicaja up 2-4. Diamantidis got his first basket from the baseline, while Rowland popped from the foul line. Sato's layup tied it up, and Diamantidis gave the Greens their first lead of the season, 8-6, on a jumper. Sinanovic slammed a rebound, but newcomer Smith drilled an open three-pointer for the hosts. The Panathinaikos defense ruled as Smith added free throws and Maric a basket to open a 15-8 advantage. Unicaja managed only free throws before Smith added 3 points the hard way and Sato a triple from deep for a double-digit lead, 21-10. Sinanovic and Valters steadied Unicaja with a couple baskets, but Smith continued scoring easily as the Greens led 25-16 after 10 minutes.
Unicaja got extra scorers involved - Peric, Saul Blanco and Jorge Garbajosa - early in the second quarter to pull within 29-23. Now, it was the Unicaja defense that proved tough, but only until Jasikevicius fed Kaimakoglou for a three-pointer. When Diamantidis got behind that defense for a layup and Jasikevicius finished a fastbreak, Panathinaikos was in charge again at 36-26. Unicaja needed a timeout, after which Rowland scored and his team matched Panathinaikos basket for basket, although one falling-down scoop shot by Kaimakoglou was impossible to duplicate. Unicaja fell behind again 48-38, however, on a turnover that Diamantidis punished from long range. Unicaja mounted another charge, with Peric completing a three-point play and Valters hitting from deep to cut the difference further. Peric made the comeback nearly complete by tipping in a rebound on the buzzer to bring Unicaja as close as 52-49 at halftime.
Just as soon as Rowland made it a one-point game coming out of the lockers, the Greens reeled off an 11-0 barrage featuring three-pointers from Smith, Sato and Diamantidis to make it 63-51. The Greens were content to trade baskets now, and it took a pick-and-roll plus the extra free throw downed by Sinanovic to get the visitors within 67-56. Valters dropped the difference to single digits with free throws and Tremmell Darden's back-to-back blocks on Diamantidis and Mike Batiste gave Unicaja more hope, but Jasikevicius silenced it with a three-point play as the Greens cruised ahead again by double-digits, 75-64, after 30 minutes.
The Panathinaikos defense locked in to finish the game early in the fourth quarter by holding Unicaja to just a layup and a free throw by Zoric in the first 5 minutes. Meanwhile, Calathes, Kaimakoglou and Maric were boosting the difference to 88-67. By the time Diamaintidis and Kaimakoglou drilled three-pointers, the difference was up to 94-69, meaning that the Greens had outscored Unicaja 42-20 to that point in the second half. The crowd at OAKA, which had heard rumors of their team's tough preparation period and Unicaja's hot domestic start, could breath easy. The champs were back and looking good.
Thursday, October 20, 2011