| Using all of its big-game experience, Panathinaikos brushed off a late rally to defeat Montepaschi Siena 90-85 in Game 1 of their best-of-five Quarterfinal Playoffs series on Tuesday before 18,000 happy fans in Athens. Game 2 is also at OAKA, the Panathinaikos home court, on Thursday. With both teams suffering key injuries - Dimitris Diamantidis for the Greens, Ksistof Lavrinovic for Montepaschi - Panathinaikos held up stronger where its star was missing and got much more offensive punch from its bench, 39 to 7. Big man Nikola Pekovic ruled the paint with 21 points for the winners, while Vassilis Spanoulis added 14 and 6 assists. Drew Nicholas chipped in 21 points, while Mike Batiste had 12 and Antonis Fotsis 11 and a team-high 7 rebounds. Montepaschi, which rallied to within 76-74 with under 5 minutes left, but 2 triples by Fotsis, another by Drew and a three-point play from Pekovic were worth a 12-3 run that decided the game at 88-77. Montepaschi got a monster game from Romain Sato, who had 29 points, 9 rebounds, while Terrell McIntyre followed closely with 27 points and 6 assists. Besides them, however, only Rimas Kaukenas broke into double digits, with 13 points.
In front of a packed house, both teams came out empty-handed early due to nerves and strong defense. Eventually, Nicholas unleashed a triple to get the scoreboard rolling. For Montepaschi, Benjamin Eze passed an offensive rebound to Sato for a three-point play to tie. After Nicholas made only 1 of 3 free throws, Sato loaded his pistol from the arc for Montepaschi's first lead, 4-6 lead. Batiste worked his way inside and for a turnaround jumper and soon added free throws at 10-6. The guests struggled from the three-point line, shooting just 1-for-8, and Spanoulis took advantage by driving and dishing to Pekovic for a 13-6 lead. Sato offered Montepaschi much-needed spark as he stole and bolted on a fastbreak. Nikos Hatzivrettas knocked down a triple from the corner and Pekovic slammed home a great pass from Sarunas Jasikevicius at 18-10. Montepaschi did not back down, though, as Domercant buried a tough jumper and the free throw that came with it, cutting the difference to 18-13. The game speed picked up as Stratos Perperoglou went coast-to-coast for a contested layup as the score hit 22-15. Sato and Terrell McIntyre hit free throws after that, but the Greens were still in command 23-18 after 10 minutes.
Perperoglou opened the second quarter with free throws that Kaukenas answered with back-to-back baskets to make it 28-24. Nicholas upped the ante, assisting Batiste on a two-handed dunk and nailing a triple as Panathinaikos broke ahead 35-26. Spanoulis then stripped McIntyre and finished the break to forge the first double-digit lead, 37-26. After a Montepaschi timeout, Stonerook drilled a three-pointer, but it didn't dim the OAKA "Factory of Noise". Montepaschi unlocked the Panathinaikos defense again as McIntyre slashed to the basket for a 37-31 score. Then, after a basket by Spanoulis, Montepaschi's magnificent point guard came up big again with an assist to Sato. Nicholas converted 3 free throws, however, that were good for a 42-33 Panathinaikos advantage. Montepaschi go-to guy Sato responded with free throws before Jasikevicius made a highlight-reel pass for another Batiste dunk that, despite McIntyre's three-point shot, kept the Greens in front 44-38 at halftime.
The second half commenced with Montepaschi turning the tide quickly in its favor. McIntyre knocked down a jumper and then undid the Greens' defense with his trademark flashy drive. As Panathinaikos slept, Kaukenas tied the game 44-44 and provoked an urgent timeout by Greens boss Zeljko Obradovic. Spanouls offered some breathing space with a jumper, and as both teams picked up their defense to asphyxiating levels, Panathinaikos refused to give up the lead thanks to offensive rebounds by Kostas Tsartsaris and Batiste. Pekovic joined the fun with consecutive baskets as Panathinaikos burst in front 54-48. Out of a Montepaschi timeout, Stonerook buried a triple only to be copied by Spanoulis. Then Fotsis swatted away Eze's layup attempt, yet McIntyre was too good to surrender. With the score at 57-53, Spanoulis hit another triple to keep the guests in catch-up mode. Stonerook bricked an open triple and then, with the clock ticking down, Batiste hit a lucky layup for a 62-53 Panathinaikos edge after 30 minutes.
To open the final quarter, Kaukenas quickly trimmed the lead to 6 points, but Panathinaikos stopped the slide with a 5-0 run to a 67-56 advantage. Marco Carraretto scored off a wild pass by McIntyre and in the next possession Sato drilled a triple to keep alive Montepaschi's chances for a takeover, but Jasikevicius tried to shut the door with a score at 71-61. Sato and McIntyre made one more stand, trimming the difference to 73-70 with 5:13 remaining. Pekovic answered for the Greens with a three-point play but Montepaschi followed McIntyre, whose next three-pointer pulled the guests within 76-74 and momentarily silenced the crowd. Not for long. Fotsis and Nicholas retorted with their huge back-to-back three-point bombs to make it 82-74 with 2:43 minutes left. After a Montepaschi timeout, another basket and the subsequent free throw by Pekovic send the noise level off the meter and the margin to double-digit territory, however McIntyre was not willing to go down without a valiant fight and closed the gap to 85-77. Fotsis loaded his pistol and gunned from downtown, thus giving the Greens a crucial 88-77 edge down the stretch. Mcintyre's triple cut the lead to 88-82 with 25 seconds left, yet Montepaschi ran out of time and Panathinaikos opened the series with a 90-85 victory.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009