Panathinaikos maintained its undefeated record and became the first Top 16 qualifier by rallying to beat Cibona 75-78 on the road Zagreb, Croatia in Group B on Thursday. Panathinaikos raised its league-best record to 9-0 record. Since it has a six-win advantage over Lottomatica Roma and Unicaja, who tie for the sixth place at 3-6, Panathinaikos has already sealed its ticket to the next round despite playing without Sani Becirovic, Tony Delk, Robertas Javtokas and Fragiskos Alvertis. Cibona fell to 4-5 with its first home loss of the season and can do no better than share fourth place heading into 2007. Mike Batiste paced the winners with 18 points and 8 rebounds. Kostas Tsartsaris added 17 while Dimos Dikoudis had 14 for Panathinaikos. Chris Warren had 18 points for Cibona while Brent Wright and Jerry McCullough each added 12 for the hosts, who led 64-58 midway through the fourth quarter. At that point, Milos Vujanic and Batiste combined for 9 points in a game-breaking 0-12 run that sealed the Greens' last Euroleague win in 2006.
Nikos Hatzivrettas needed just 9 seconds to hit free throws that Wright matched with a four-meter jumper. Panathinaikos found its early go-to guy in Batiste, who dunked and added a long fallaway jumper in a 0-7 run that shot the Greens ahead 2-9. Marton Bader tried to change things with a dunk for Cibona, while Andrew Wisniewski fired in his first triple to get the hosts within 7-9 after 4 minutes. Dusan Sakota came off the Panathinaikos bench for a quick put-back layup before a free throw by Kus and a fastbreak layup by Wright got Cibona even closer, 10-11. Dimitris Diamantidis buried a jumper for Panathinaikos, but the visitors soon entered the foul bonus. Meanwhile, Wright and Warren combined to grab Cibona's first lead, 14-13. Batiste shined with a big dunk that Warren matched with free throws, but it was Wisniewski who had the final say, with a shot from downtown to put Cibona up 19-17 after 10 minutes.
Luksa Andric scored in the low post early in the second quarter for the hosts, while Dikoudis countered with a layup and a jump-hook to tie 21-21. Cibona did not panic, as Wright buried a long jumper and Kus one from downtown to make the Greens call timeout at 26-21. Dejan Tomasevic got 3 points back with a layup-plus-free throw, but Jerry McCullough matched him with one shot from the corner for Cibona. Dikoudis and Tomasevice kept Panathinaikos as close as 29-28. However, Warren reappeared with a triple to which Jurica Zuza added a floating layup, sparking another Panathinaikos timeout at 35-28. McCullough capped an 8-0 Cibona run with free throws, but Diamantidis soon blocked his dunk, made foul shots and fed Tomasevic for a fastbreak layup to keep the Greens alive at 37-33. Warren sank another triple before the half could finish to give Cibona a 41-35 advantage.
Batiste shined with a put-back basket after the break and Tsartsaris added a driving layup to get the Greens within 41-39. Cibona went scoreless for more than 2 minutes, while Diamantidis fed Batiste for a reverse dunk that tied it up, 41-41. Cibona faced foul trouble, as Kus, Wright and Bader already had 3 fouls apiece. Tsartsaris provided a highlight with a coast-to-coast layup but Bader and Wright, with a big dunk, kept Cibona ahead 45-43 after 26 minutes. Tsartsaris - who else? - buried a three-pointer to put the Greens ahead, 45-46, and soon Sakota added another from downtown to make it 47-49 as Cibona struggled to beat a Panathinaikos zone defense. Andric scored to tie before Batiste made a tip-in, but Kus rallied the hosts with free throws and a reverse layup to put Cibona back ahead, 53-51, after three quarters.
Panathinaikos entered the foul bonus with more than 8 minutes to go, while a free throw by Wright and a close basket by Warren gave Cibona a 56-51 lead. Tsartsaris scored in transition and soon added a three-point play to give the Greens some fresh air at 58-56. McCullough banked in a mid-range jumper and added a fastbreak layup to make Panathinaikos call timeout, 62-56, with 6 minutes remaining. Tsartsaris scored again but Bader shined with a tip-in to keep Cibona fully ahead. Things were about to change suddenly and dramatically as Vujanic got to the line and buried 5 free throws during an amazing 0-12 Panathinaikos run in which Diamantidis hit a critical triple and Batiste added a jump hook. All of the sudden, the Greens were in charge, 64-70. Bader and Warren made foul shots to get Cibona within 67-70 with 2 minutes to go, but Diamantidis then made his own free throws and Dikoudis fired in a jumper that sealed the outcome at 68-74. Dikoudis ended it with a reverse layup to allow the Greens to seal their Top 16-qualifying win in style.
Thursday, December 21, 2006