Defending champion Panathinaikos reached the end of the regular season's first half as the Euroleague's sole undefeated team by rallying to defeat its closest Group C challenger, Real Madrid, by 92-85 at home in Athens, Greece in a thriller on Thursday. Down 71-77 with 5 minutes to play, the Greens buttoned down their defense and scored at will in a 21-8 finishing run to raise the roof again at OAKA arena. Panathinaikos is now 7-0 and has the Euroleague's biggest first-place lead, two victories more than Madrid and AXA F.C. Barcelona, both 5-2. Mike Batiste led the winners on the inside, with a team-high 25 points. Sarunas Jasikevicius controlled the show with 21 points and 6 assists, while Sani Becirovic added 10 points for Panathinaikos. Madrid, which lead sporadically throughout the game, got 19 points from Louis Bullock, 14 from Kerem Tunceri and 12 from Michalis Pelekanos. Down 71-77 in the final quarter, Panathinaikos got his only points of the night on a triple from Dimitris Diamantidis, who otherwise did it all with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Both teams came out shooting blanks, but it wasn't long before they got into rhythm. Jasikevicius knocked down a jumper to get the hosts on the board first, only to be see Bullock's three-pointer put Madrid up 4-5. Demos Dikoudis answered for the Greens with a pair of baskets, but Lazaros Papadopoulos scored and Bullock combined to keep Madrid ahead. With Jasikevicius pushing the tempo to frantic levels, Panathinaikos exploded for an 9-0 run in which Batiste and Kennedy Winston had 6 points, giving momentum to the home side. Finally, Madrid ended a three-minute dry spell with a Tunceri triple and soon Bullock unleashed another bomb from downtown to pull the guests within 21-19. The Greens kept their composure though, and Becirovic came off the bench to convert a three-point play and fix the score of the opening quarter at 26-20.
The second quarter opened with Madrid making a huge statement by scoring almost at will against the usually swarming Panathinaikos defense. A drive by Raul Lopez ignited a 1-10 run in which he and Charles Smith contributed 8 points. Panathinaikos took a timeout, after which Vassilis Spanoulis connected from downtown, but Lopez copied him to tie the game at 35-35. Madrid was controlling the game's rhythm now, as a layup by Blagota Sekulic allowed the guests to burst in front 37-39. The Greens regained the advantage thanks to Jasikevicius, who first found Batiste for a reverse two-handed dunk and then scored himself. But on defense, Panathinaikos failed to stop the guests. Behind triples by Bullock and Axel Hervelle, Madrid held a gutsy 46-47 lead at intermission.
The second half commenced with Papadopoulos scoring on an impressive spin move against Batiste. Panathinaikos faced trouble offensively against the very energetic Madrid defense, for whome Smith made 4 steals in just 90 seconds. Madrid failed to convert the extra possessions, however, and instead an emphatic rejection by Diamantidis of a layup try by Smith brought the massive OAKA arena crowd to its feet and charged up the Greens. Soon enough, Spanoulis capped a 6-0 run for a 52-52 tie, and moments later, Winston buried a corner triple that vaulted Panathinaikos in front, 57-54. Instead of folding, Madrid counter-punched with a 0-8 run behind a pair of huge three-point shots by Tunceri. Free throws by Fragiskos Alvertis and Jasikevicius kept the Greens close on Madrid's heels, but a pair of baskets by the visitors' own Greek ace, Pelekanos, helped then retain a 65-68 edge with one quarter left to play.
Jacikevicius signalled his team's intentions with a game-tying triple to open that final quarter. Soon, Alvertis copied him, gunning from downtown to seize a new Panathinaikos advantage, 71-68, right after Bullock's own triple was discounted when he was whistled for kicking out while shooting. Madrid was hardly giving up, and before the OAKA crowd knew it, had clawed back into the lead behind a stone-wall defense. Bullock hit 4 foul shots and then Hervelle capped a 0-10 run that made it 71-77 for Madrid with 5 minutes left. Diamantidis turned the tide for Panathinaikos with a much-needed triple and Batiste hit free throws that made it 76-77. With the quarter ticking away, it was Euroleague action at its finest, with two teams fighting like warriors to grab the win. When Tunceri nailed a triple, Becirovic matched it. Then, with 2:15 remaining, Jacikevicius hit a jumper that put the Greens in front, 81-80. Following a Madrid timeout, Batiste muscled his way inside for a basket and Jacikevicius extended the lead with a pair of free throws. After Lopez misfired from downtown for Madrid, Spanoulis punished the guests with a three-pointer that provided the decisive 88-81 margin with 30 seconds to go. With the OAKA fans going wild, Madrid came up short of any late heroics and failed to stun the Euroleague Champions in what was a breathtaking match.
Thursday, December 6, 2007