Tau Ceramica held onto its piece of all-important fifth place in Group C by escaping with an 84-82 victory over visiting Panathinaikos on Wednesday. Pablo Prigioni's 2 free throws with 20 seconds left proved to be the game-winning points for Tau, whose record improved to 5-7, good for a tie with Unicaja. Panathinaikos now sits at 6-6 and will be part of a third-place tie with either Benetton or Ulker after those two teams play each other on Thursday. Prigioni led Tau with 16 points and hit 4 of his team's 11 three-point shots. Kornel David added 14 points, Travis Hansen 12, Arvydas Macijauskas 11 and Jose Manuel Calderon 10 for the winners. Patrick Femerling was the big gun for Panathinaikos, with 19 points. Dimitri Papanikolau and Kostas Tsartsaris followed with 13 each and Dimitris Diamantidis 11 for the guests.
The snow that almost collapsed Vitoria froze both teams' offenses in the early going until Calderon and Scola found the way to the basket to gave Tau a 4-0 lead. Panathinaikos answered with a zone deffense that allowed them to hold the hosts down as Tsartsaris went on fire and scored 7 points in the first 5 minutes, after which his team was ahead 8-12. The guests extended the lead to 9 points after a three-pointer by Jaka Lakovic and a nice jumper by Papanikolau, and that forced the first timeout of the hosts. Tau looked for a higher tempo with Macijauskas and David on court, and the latter delivered a pair of basket-plus-free throw plays that closed the gap to 16-19 after 9 minutes. Panathinaikos didn't coast, however, as a hook shot by Mike Batiste and a monster three-pointer by Lakovic closed the quarter with a 16-24 edge for the guests.
David was the soul of the home team as he pushed Tau with 4 quick points early in the second quarter. Calderon and Macijauskas hit a couple of three-pointers that reduced the gap to 28-30, but Panathinaikos didn't panic and retained the lead on a slam dunk by Femerling. Finally, another pair of three-pointers, by Macijauskas and Sergi Vidal, broke the guests' stability and gave Tau a lead back at 34-32 midway though the quarter. Panathinaikos tried a timeout, but the momentum stayed with Tau as Calderon and Macijauskas extended the gap to 39-36. Panathinaikos found a solution in Femerling, whose height caused trouble to Tau's big men. His 4 free throws in a row allowed the Greens to rally and take back a 39-42 edge after 18 minutes. Tau reacted with a quick 5-0 run capped by Prigioni's fastbreak triple, Tau's sixth of the quarter, led to a halftime tie of 45-45
Papanikolau opened fire with a huge three-pointer right after the intermission, but Tsartsaris, the top scorer of Panathinaikos in the first half, now left the court with 4 fouls. Papanikolau added a free throw for a 45-49 lead, but Tau made a 5-0 run on another three-pointer by Prigioni and a slam dunk by David. The lead went back and forth from there, even though Tau had to bench Macijauskas and David because of foul trouble. Both teams increased the defensive pressure to prevent easy points. Hansen took over for Tau and nailed a three-pointer to make it 59-55 after 28 minutes. Tau kept going with another triple by Prigioni for a game-high lead of 62-55 before Femerling scored again to leave a 62-57 scoreboard after 30 minutes.
Fragiskos Alvertis opened the final quarter by shooting from deep and reducing the gap to 62-60. Though points game hard against the mutually strong defensive pressure, Tau retained a small advantage thanks to a short jumper by Hansen that made it 65-62. Panathinaikos pulled its zone defense and right after that Prigioni nailed an amazing buzzer-beater from 8 meters, which Hansen soon followed with another shot from the arc to boost the lead to 71-62 with 5 minutes to go. Panathinaikos seemed exhausted and Tau was able to retain a comfortable margin, 81-74, entering the final 2 minutes. That's when the Greens made their move. First, Femerling dunked, got fouled and added the free throw. Then Diamantidis sent up a triple that fell through the net, transforming the scoreboard at 81-80. Scola hit 1 of 2 free throws on the following possession for Tau, but Giorgios Kalaitzis tied 82-82 from the foul line with only 24 seconds to go. Panathinaikos decided to foul Prigioni to get a winning shot attempt. He made both free throws for an 86-84 score. Panathinaikos had 20 seconds to find a three-pointer, and got the ball to Diamantidis, but his shot missed as did a follow-up attempt by Kalaitzis as the clock expired, leaving Tau and its fans looking ahead and quite releaved.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005