Regal FC Barcelona became the first team to beat Panathinaikos at the Athens Indoor Olympic Arena in nearly two years with a resounding 76-87 win on Thursday night. Barca dominated early and used a team-oriented attack that featured four players with at least 5 assists to end the Greens’ 18-game home-court winning streak. Barca won its fourth in a row to improve to 6-1 and stay pace with Montepaschi for the Group B lead. Barcelona hosts the Italian champs in a major matchup next week. Meanwhile Panathinaikos fell to 5-2 and sits in third place in the group. Barca came out firing as Gianluca Basile and David Andersen led the attack. The visitors built a double-digit advantage in the opening period and stretched it to 22-42 midway through the second period. Vassilis Spanoulis and Drew Nicholas rallied the hosts to within 38-49 by halftime and Mike Batiste helped cut the gap to single digits in the fourth quarter, but the Greens could never get close enough to threaten as Barca held on for the win. Andersen led Barca with 22 points and 9 rebounds and Basile posted 16 points and 5 assists. Victor Sada added 6 assists and Jaka Lakovic and Juan Carlos Navarro dished 5 each for the winners. Batiste led Panathinaikos with 21 points, Spanoulis added 13 and 5 assists off the bench and Nicholas finished with 11 points.
Despite the roaring crowd, Barcelona came out determined to clamp down on defense and do not allow Panathinaikos to get any rhythm offensively. On the other end, Basile swished two triples against the hosts’ zone defense to race Barcelona to a 5-11 lead. After of a Panathinaikos timeout, Sarunas Jasikevicius knocked down a three-pointer to trim the advantage. However, with Sada providing the brains and Fran Vazquez being a cut above his opponents in the paint, Barcelona stayed in front, 8-13. Batiste knocked down a jumper, but Ersan Ilyasova responded with a basket and a free throw to keep the guests ahead, 12-16. Panathinaikos seemingly picked up its defensive intensity, yet Lakovic, who was booed every time he touched the ball, unleashed a triple and then Navarro followed him to give Barcelona a double-digit advantage, 12-22. Antonis Fotsis came off the bench to connect from downtown, only to be copied by Ilyasova who fixed the score at 18-25 by the end of the first quarter.
Andersen opened the second quarter with a layup and then Ilyasova scored in transition to keep the tide to Barca’s favor. Panathinaikos was seemingly nervous and its players were struggling against the guests’ zone defense. Lakovic found Andersen for an easy layup, good for a 18-31 advantage that forced coach Zeljko Obradovic to ask Nikola Pekovic to play even though he was not 100% fit. The center made his presence felt in the paint immediately, but Basile upped the ante with two wild triples that boosted the margin to 22-39 midway the second quarter. And as though it wasn’t enough, Andersen added 5 more points to emphatically show who was in charge. If Panathinaikos wanted to dig out from a 20-point hole, it definitely had to take better care of the ball. A gutsy drive by Spanoulis cut the deficit to 29-44 and allowed the crowd to explode, yet Barcelona was stunningly effective at both ends. Spanoulis and Nicholas finally managed to unlock the stifling Barcelona defense, however Andersen dominated the paint and helped the guests to march to a 38-49 advantage at halftime.
The second half commenced with Kostas Tsartsaris scoring on a slippery move and then Jasikevicius cutting the lead to 42-49. Andersen hit a baseline jumper and on the next possession Navarro buried a triple to make it 44-54 and silence the crowd. Batiste tried to spearhead the counter-attack with a monstrous one-handed dunk, but Andersen had the last say for himself as he nailed back-to-back triples to keep Panathinaikos with its back to the wall, 48-60. Navarro and Basile carried on their three-point shooting extravaganza to stretch the lead to 49-68. A tip-in by Pekovic and a silky drive by Stratos Perperoglou helped the hosts to slice the margin to 15, yet Barcelona remained in total control.
Both Dimitris Diamantidis and Perperoglou failed to get the scoreboard rolling in the final quarter, unlike Roger Grimau who scored 5 quick points to send the gap to the 20-point territory. Eventually Spanoulis ended the dry spell for the Greens with a triple and Batiste halted Barca’s momentum, as he trimmed the lead to 59-73. Then, energetic Batiste finished a pick-and-roll with a two-handed dunk and Nicholas unleashed a triple to bring the fans to their feet and the score to 66-77 with 4:53 left to play. Lubos Barton found an answer against the Greens’ press, but Batiste’s hook shot sent the noise level off the charts and Diamantidis’s three-pointer brought the hosts within single-digits again, 71-79. Lakovic hit a pair of free throws and after Jasikevicius missed a decisive open triple, Basile finished the break for a 71-83 advantage. Batiste muscled his way to a basket, but Spanoulis’s turnover down the stretch led to a Barton layup as the visitors wrapped up a crucial road win.
Thursday, December 11, 2008