Rising to the occasion of ULEB Game 1000, host Panathinaikos turned back visiting Zalgiris 91-80 on Thursday in Athens to start the second half of the Euroleague regular season on the right foot in Group B. The victory allowed the Greens to even their record at 4-4, while dropping Zalgiris to the same mark. Both are now tied for fourth place in the battle for Top 16 position in Group B. By tying its highest point total of the season, Panathinaikos lived up to the moment of hosting the 1,000th game in ULEB competitions since 2000. The Greens also withstood an 22-36 disadvatange on rebounds by committing only 5 turnovers all game. Team captain Fragiskos Alvertis led the winners with 19 points, while Nikos Hatzivrettas added 17, Mike Batiste 15 and Arriel McDonald 13. Zalgiris was led by Arvydas Sabonis and Mirsolav Beric with 18 points each. Tanoka Beard put up a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Paulius Jankukas chipped in 10 points.
Panathinaikos and Zalgiris Kaunas proved from the tipoff that they were ready to live up to the occasion of ULEB Game 1000. After the award ceremony of the Greens in honor to both the ULEB president Edoardo Portela and Arvydas Sabonis, both teams started offering great basketball moments to the fans. Zalgiris tried to force an up-tempo game and Panathinaikos was obliged to follow this rhythm. Zalgiris sprinted to a 0-5 lead, the Greens answered with 4 of their own, but the Lithuanians had more options. Miroslav Beric hit consecutive three-pointers to open the margin to six points, 8-14. Sabonis was dominating not only in the paint but also at the perimeter with his outstanding assists and led his team to 12-18. When coach Antanas Sireika called Sabas to give him some rest on the bench and Zalgiris turned their defense to zone, Panathinaikos found the way to the basket and started recovering. McDonald scored a lay up for 16-18 and Alvertis was the player to tie the game, 20-20, thanks to an amazing fadeaway shot. The captain of Panathinaikos came up big, too, with a three-pointer for another tie, 25-25, but Zalgiris scored again to close the first period with a one-basket lead, 25-27.
With Sabonis on the bench, Panathinaikos coach Zeljiko Obradovic tried some zone defense, too, but Dainius Salenga sank a three-pointer from the corner to increase his team's advantage to 29-33. Alvertis was playing great at both ends, and was already up to 13 points, but the visitors didn’t lose their concentration. Sabonis returned, but Kostas Tsartsaris and Nikos Hatzivrettas buried 2 three-pointers to send Panathinaikos in front, 39-35, after 15 minutes. Using three perimeter players, the Greens managed to play aggresive defense and also to create fastbreak opportunities, trying to run down the floor ahead of Sabonis. Eventually, Panathinaikos compiled a 12-3 balance against the zone and soared ahead 43-38. Haris Mujezinovis tried to face Sabonis with some overplay tricks, but the European legend showed all his class in helping Zalgiris cut the margin to 45-44. Then, however, Hatzivrettas sank an open three-point shot to give Panathinaikos its maximum lead thusfar, 50-44 at the end of the first half.
To start the third quarter, Panathinaikos was played a furious style of basketball, which didn't allow the guests to react. Mujezinovic guarded Sabonis well and also set a lot of offensive screens to create open shot opportunities for his teammates. Nikos Hatzivrettas, Jaka Lakovic and Arriel McDonald hit back-to-back-to-back triples and also created enough fastbreaks for a 16-point lead, 65-49, after 24 minutes. Panathinaikos playing in a spectacular way, while Zagliris had lost not only concentration, but also defensive balance. The Greens forged a strong transition game, dominated under the boards and had high shooting percentages that allowed them to keep the margin and feel in control Sabonis scored only 3 points in this quarter, while Tanoka Beard grabbed some offensive rebounds and scored, but it was clear that the Lithuanians missed energy and competitive spirit as scoreboard read 72-59 after 30 minutes.
With a 13-point advantage, Panathinaikos seemed to be the boss on the court. The start of the last quarter found Sabonis on the bench as Zalgiris tried to add more aggresiveness and pressure. Soon, Ed Cota nailed 1 of 2 free throws to cut the margin to 9 points, 74-65, and with Beard playing some kind of volleyball under the boards, Panathinaikos now tried to win the game with defense. Cota and Paulius Jankunas were called for their fourth personal fouls, Batiste and Tsartsaris as well, while Sabonis returned to action and Beric sank a three-pointer for 76-67. The visitors turned to zone defense, but Alvertis bagged another fadeaway shot for 78-69. Sabonis dunked for 78-72 after 36 minutes, and a Beric layup brought Zalgiris within 5 points at 79-74. Alvertis hit a three-pointer for the Greens, but Beric answered in kind for 82-77. Batiste and Timinskas exchanged free throws and layup, respectively, preserving the five-point gap, but now there was only a minute left to play. To start that minute, Sabonis stopped Batiste, but Cota committed his fifth personal foul and Panathinaikos made a 5-0 run to seal the victory. The final difference was 11 points, also giving the Greens an advantage in the case of any future head-to-head ties with Zalgiris. As such, the Athens crowd celebrated not only ULEB Game 1000, but the re-entry of the Greens into the thick of the Group B race.
Thursday, January 8, 2004