Despite injury that left its frontcourt nearly empty, Panathinaikos lived up to its billing as a long-term favorite with an 87-71 victory over visiting Real Madrid, its co-leader in Group C until this game. Panathinaikos improved to 6-1 despite missing two injured centers, Dejan Tomsevic and Patrick Femerling, as well as forward and captain Fragiskos Alvertis. Madrid, also weakened by injuries to starters Igor Rakocevic and Felipe Reyes, fell to 5-2 and a second-place tie with CSKA Moscow. The Panathinaikos backcourt ruled as Jaka Lakovic led five scorers in double figures with 18 points. Mike Batiste followed with 17 and 11 rebounds. Nikos Hatzivrettas and Dimitris Diamantidis added 16 each and Vassilis Spanoulis 11. Madrid got 27 points from Louis Bullock and 13 from Marko Tomas. The visitors were in the game for 30 minutes, and actually led near the end of the third quarter, but a 19-6 Panathinaikos run to start the final quarter sealed the outcome and the owner of the top spot in Group C halfway through the regular season.
Former Panathinaikos coach Bozidar Maljkovic was given a warm welcome by the fans. However, on the court both teams got down to battle as defenses took over early. Bullock scored in transition to give Madrid a 4-6 lead after 3 minutes. Panathinaikos answered back with a hook by Batiste and then took the lead behind a long jumper by Chatzivrettas, 8-6. The guests found a go-to guy in Tomas who hit back-to-back jumpers, but the Panathinaikos backcourt was in great shape. Lakovic poured in 5 points and Diamantidis drove to put the hosts up 18-13 after 8 minutes. Bullock flashed his way into the basket with a spectacular crossover, but Diamantidis was unstoppable driving to the hoop for a 20-15 Panathinaikos lead after one quarter.
Diamantidis kept at by converting a three-point play to open the second quarter. What followed was a barrage of triples. Tomas nailed one, but Vassilis Spanoulis teamed with Lakovic for a 9-2 run to push the margin into double digits, 32-22. Moustapha Sonko stepped up to bury consecutive triples that pulled Madrid within 32-28. Then it was time for Diamantidis to return and show who was in charge. He first fed Batiste for a slam dunk on the break and then scored himself to broaden the gap to 36-28. After a timeout, Madrid resumes bombing from the arc. Bullock and Sonko drilled a couple of triples in the final minute and then Mickael Gelabale added free throws to keep the difference down to 37-36 at halftime.
The second half commenced with Madrid charging at full speed. Bullock hit a jumper, igniting a 0-6 run that put the guests in front, 37-42. Diamantidis took over once again, however. He first connected from downtown, then rejected Bullock's shot and finally finished the fastbreak with authority to tie 42-42. Panathinaikos turned it on now, as Konstantinos Tsartsaris and Lakovic scored from the three-point line to retake a 49-47 lead. Chatzivrettas added his own triple shot to boost the margin to 53-49, but a a flagrant foul on Panathinaikos and Gelabale's alley-oop dunk put Madrid in front again, 53-54. Batiste responded with some power moves to take back a 59-57 Panathinaikos edge after three quarters.
Early in the final quarter, the hosts really turned it on, tightening their defense and hitting open shots. A three-pointer by Dimitris Papanikolaou capped a 12-2 burst that pushed the margin to 71-59 and sent the noise level off the meter. Madrid attempted to turn it around, but a Spanoulis triple on the break boosted the lead to 78-63 with less than 4 minutes to go. Behind free throws by Tomas and Bullock, the guests managed to trim the lead to 78-67, but in the next possession, Lakovic put any hopes of a comeback out of reach by connecting from downtown. Nothing changed in the closing seconds and Panathinaikos cruised to a commanding victory, 87-71 that keeps them leaders in Group C.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005