Panathinaikos found the perfect start to the 2008-09 Euroleague season with a convincing 78-51 victory over Zalgiris. Dimitris Diamantidis led four players in double figures with 15 points for the Greek powerhouse, which hopes Wednesday’s home win is the start of a campaign ending in another Euroleague crown. Nikola Pekovic came off Zelimir Obradovic’s bench for 14 points in 14 minutes of action while Antonis Fotsis and Michael Batiste each tallied 10 points and combined for 10 rebounds. Dusan Kecman meanwhile chipped in five assists. Zalgiris, which swapped coaches just last week, committed 22 turnovers to 10 for Panathinaikos and Loren Woods paced the Lithuanian side with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Dainius Salenga added 11 points but no other player hit for more than seven for Gintaras Krapikas’s team.
In its Euroleague season opener, Panathinaikos started in high gear and thanks to baskets from Stratos Perperoglou and Batiste rushed ahead to a quick 10-3 lead. Krapikas was forced to call a time-out only four minutes after tip-off. Zalgiris, however, could not capitalize on the hosts’ two-minute dry spell. Batiste took over again, scoring a total of eight points in seven minutes and ignited an 8-0 run which pushed the gap to 18-5. The guests tried to bounce back behind Loren Woods who managed to unlock Panathinaikos’s stifling defense. But the Greens were scoring at will and the first period ended with the hosts enjoying a 26-11 advantage.
Panathinaikos entered the second quarter with Pekovic dominating in the paint. And it wasn’t long before the Greeks forged a 20-point lead, 32-12. Zalgiris was clearly in disarray, failing to keep up with Panathinaikos on either end of the floor. After 14 minutes of play, Zalgiris was shooting an abysmal 6-of-25 from the field and had scored only 16 pts. Panathinaikos, however, took its foot off the gas and the guests finally got the scoreboard rolling, closing the gap to 38-26 with two minutes left before halftime. Zalgiris tried to claw its way back and surprise the seemingly laid-back hosts who went seven minutes without a basket. Salenga did all he could, converting a couple of lay-ups to trim the margin to 38-30 at halftime.
Early on in the second half Diamantidis drove to the basket to build a 42-30 advantage. But it was obvious that Panathinaikos was struggling to create fast break opportunities. A three-pointer by Salenga cut the lead to 44-36 and allowed Zalgiris to keep close on Panathinaikos’ heels. But the hosts proved too deep and talented to let Zalgiris turn the tide to its favor. Backed by the boisterous Panathinaikos crowd, Diamantidis scored on a reverse lay-up and then Fotsis punished the zone defense with a long ball from downtown for a 51-37 margin. Panathinaikos had now picked up its defensive intensity to its usually high standards. And with Diamantidis spearheading the offensive attack, the hosts broke the game open. Thanks to back-to-back triples by Diamantidis and Fotsis, Panathinaikos galloped to a whopping 65-39 advantage and ultimately forced Zalgiris to throw in the towel.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008