Tau Ceramica continues to depend on itself to reach the Euroleague playoff quarterfinals from Group F after thrashing Panathinaikos 86-69 at home in Vitoria, Spain on Wednesday. Both teams are now tied for the second and crucial spot in the Group F standings with 3-2 records, right behind Climamio Bologna, first at 4-1. Tau will make to the playoffs if it beats Zalgiris in Kaunas or if Climamio wins next week. Panathinaikos needs not only to beat Climamio in Athens, but do it by 5 points or more to advance. Travis Hansen and Luis Scola led the winners each with 18 points, Kornel David added 16 on 6-for-8 shooting while Arvydas Macijauskas had 12 for Tau. Jaka Lakovic and Dimitris Diamantidis led Panathinaikos with 12 points apiece. Vlado Scepanovic added 10 for the guests. Tau broke the game open in an extraordinary first half in which the hosts limited Panathinaikos to just 2 of 13 two-pointers. Meanwhile, Scola, David and Hansen scored in double digits to give Tau a 45-28 lead at halftime. Panathinaikos failed to rally, while Tau cruised to a key win.
As expected, defenses prevailed over offenses in the early going. Tau managed to keep Panathinaikos scoreless for the first 4 minutes until Lakovic nailed a three pointer from the corner. Meanwhile, a mid-range jumper by Macijauskas ignited a 10-3 run in which Scola and David added 4 points each, forcing a quick Panathinaikos timeout. Scepanovic nailed the Greens' second three-pointer of the night, but Tau kept pushing inside and fed Scola twice for a 14-6 edge after 6 minutes. David followed a long jumper with a basket in the paint to boost Tau's margin to double digits, 18-8. Kostas Tsartsaris fired in one from downtown, starting a three-point contest in which Hansen and Lakovic drilled one each. Despite nailing as many as 4 threes in the opening quarter, Panathinaikos trailed 21-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Back-to-back baskets by David and Hansen made Tau boost its gap to 25-14 early in the second quarter as Panathinikos struggled to find the way to the basket. Fragiskos Alvertis took over the power forward spot as Panathinaikos tried a small lineup, but nothing seemed to work for the Greens. Meanwhile, Hansen followed a huge alley-oop dunk with his second three-pointer to boost Tau's margin to 30-16 after 13 minutes. Tau point guard Jose Manuel Calderon, back after a two-week absence, fed Scola for a reverse layup which meant a 32-16 score midway through the quarter. Obradovic stopped the game with a timeout, trying to wake his team up. Panathinaikos managed to at least exchange baskets after the break, although Tau entered the foul bonus too early, allowing the guests to go to the line often. With Pablo Prigioni on court again, the hosts slowed the pace down in the last minutes before the intermission to keep a safe 17-point margin, 45-28, at halftime. Tau shined in offense with 15-for-29 shooting and just 3 turnovers while limiting Panathinaikos to just 2 of 13 two-pointers in the opening half.
Panathinaikos showed a tougher face after the break as Tsartaris and Nikos Hatzivrettas helped the Greens to reduce the gap to 47-33 early in the third quarter. The guests' defense improved a lot, preventing Tau from getting easy points in the paint, but the main problem for Panathinaikos, the offense, remained unsolved. Hansen took over for Tau with 8 consecutive points, including a triple and a basket-plus-free throw which boosted Tau's margin to 55-37 after 26 minutes. Tau switched to zone defense for a couple of plays in an attempt to give Panathinaikos even more trouble in offense. It worked well, as Calderon followed free throws with a long jumper to make it a 21-point game, 64-43, with a minute to go in the period. Scepanovic and Dimitrios Papanikolau combined for 3 free throws to bring Panathinaikos within 64-46 after 30 minutes.
Lonny Baxter and Papanikolau collected 2 points each to reduce the difference even more, 64-50 to start the last quarter. It didn't last long, however, as Tau got back in track once David, Prigioni and Scola put together a 6-2 run to prevent any kind of comeback. Tau's defense kept Panathinaikos under 60 points for 37 minutes. As such, the hosts didn't need anything special to keep a comfortable 18-point margin at 82-64 with 3 minutes remaining. The guests tried to save their chances to qualify from the three-point line, in an attempt to improve the points differential for the final game of the Top 16, but still the Panathinaikos shooters were off-target. Tau managed to escape with a 86-69 win, enough to allow the hosts to make it to the Euroleague playoffs by beating Zalgiris next week.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005