Panathinaikos turned back a major challenge to its Euroleague title defense on Wednesday by coming from 13 points behind in the second half to down visiting Ulker 78-74. Greens captain Fragiskos Alvertis, in his first game back after pneumonia, led the winners with 17 points, including 4 of 5 three-pointers, one of which was the game-winner with over 3 minutes remaining. Defense ruled thereafter, and Ulker did not score again. With chances to both tie and win the game in the final 10 seconds, Melvin Booker of Ulker missed a three-pointer and a pair of free throws. As such, Panathinaikos raised its record to 2-1 in Group E, while Ulker dropped to a highly precarious 0-3. Antonis Fotsis added 15 points for Panathianikos, Arriel McDonald and George Kalaitzis 10 each. For Ulker, regular season MVP Josep Blair led the way with 20 points, Booker added 17 and Harun Erdenay 11. Panathinaikos was unlucky from the start of the game. Just 23 seconds after tipoff, center Darryl Middleton injured his head trying to catch the ball on offense. He was replaced by Lazaros Papadopoulos, who scored his team's first 4 points with his excellent left-hand hook shot over Joseph Blair. Both teams tried to run and create fastbreak opportunities, with Erdenay once again showing his shooting ability by dropping 2 three-pointers in 4 minutes, good for an 8-10 Ulker lead. Ibrahim Kutluay scored his first basket agains his Turkish national teammate Haluk Yildirim to put the Greens up 16-14 after 6 minutes, and soon after McDonald's three-pointer upped the lead to 21-16. But Ulker reacted immediately and effectively, thanks to good defense and fastbreaks, cutting the margin to 21-20. Fotsis now knocked down a triple for Panathinaikos, but Blair showed his flair with an outstanding three-pointer from midcourt on the buzzer to close the first-quarter scoreboard at 24-23.
Blair, the Euroleague regular season MVP, boosted his personal point total to 13 in 11 minutes while triggering a 0-6 run to start the second quarter. Panathinaikos struggled to find open shots or get offensive rebounds. Ulker was able to run and to shoot the ball with good accuracy, especially from the corners. Halfway through the quarter, Serkan Erdogan hit another three-pointer for a 27-34 Ulker lead. Soon, Miljan Goljevic copied him and the visitors were ahead by double digits, 28-37, after an absolutely dominating 4-14 run based on great shots, excellent defense and the superiority of Blair and Booker. Thanks to its captain, Frangiskos Alvertis, the Greens revived. Alvertis scored 7 quick points and forced Goljevic to commit 4 fouls to put Panathinaikos within 35-37. The Greens found their defensive spirit but also the offensive options they missed so far. Giorgos Balogiannis came off the bench to add 5 consecutive points which tied the game 40-40. At the end of the first half Ulker was ahead, 40-42, as Blair was up to 15 points already.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Ulker seemed unstoppable again. Head coach Tolga Ongoren put Booker and Tutku Acik together on the court and the Turkish team made a 10-0 run in less than 3 minutes to leap ahead 40-52. Jaka Lakovic broke the ice for Panathinaikos after 3 minutes, but Booker hit another three pointer, giving Ulker a maximum margin of 13 points, 42-55. After 25 minutes of play, Middleton was injured again and Obradovic called Fotsis from the bench just to shopt the free throws. Fotsis didn't miss the opportunity to score, but also delivered some major defense against Blair! And with Fotsis shutting down Blair while scoring 8 points himself, the Greens started rising again. Giorgos Kalaitzis and McDonald added great perimeter defense, especially against Booker, and some very important field goals as the Greens tore off a 20-3 run to lead 62-58. That same four-point margin held at the end of 30 minutes, with Panathinaikos ahead 64-60.
Ulker started the fourth quarter in a 2-3 zone defense and once again found fastbreaks when Panathinaikos missed. Those easy baskets tied it 66-66, but Alvertis re-emerged to hit a three-pointer for 69-66. Blair and Booker would not give up that quickly, however, and they both scored again to in a 0-7 Ulker run to a 69-73 lead. But Panathinaikos answered with its own string of 7 unanswered points, sealed with a three-pointer scored by Alvertis, for a 76-73 with 3 minutes and 20 seconds left. The defenses prevailed on the next possessions, building suspense for a thrilling finish. Erdogan scored 1 for 2 free throws to pull Ulker within 76-74, and then Lakovic made a turnover that gave the visitors a chance to tie or win the game. Booker was fated, however, to miss when it counted most. His three-point try to win it failed with 9 seconds left, and then he went to the line for potential game-tying free throws with 4 seconds left: neither went through. Kutluay made 2 for 2 from the foul line after that to seal the victory and give Panathinaikos new life in Group E.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003