| Defending champion Panathinaikos fought off injuries, foul trouble and a stubborn Armani Jeans Milano to start the 2009-10 campaign with a 67-75 victory at the Mediolanuforum in Milan, Italy. The Greens outscored Milano 2-9 at a crucial stretch late in the fourth quarter to walk away with the win. Milano was in the game for 35 minutes and the lead changed hands four times early in the fourth quarter, but despite both of Panathinaikos’s center fouling out, the Green guards were able to step up and guarantee the win. Vassilis Spanoulis led the charge with 19 points and 5 assists, Nikola Pekovic scored 17 before fouling out, Stratos Perperoglou had 13 points and 4 steals and Dimitris Diamantidis finished with 12 for Panathinaikos, which was without the injured Mike Batiste, Sarunas Jasikevicus and Kostas Tsartsaris. Jonas led Milano with 12 points and Morris Finley added 11 in defeat. The champs head home to face Khimki in their Group D home opener next week, while Armani Jeans heads to Germany to battle EWE Baskets Oldenburg.
Perperoglou got the Greens on the scoreboard first before Marius Petravicius and Maciulis got Milano going with free throws. Pekovic used his size to dominate inside, scoring three times as Panathinaikos soared to a 5-11 lead. Mike Hall kept the hosts close with a triple, but Drew Nicholas set up Spanoulis for a layup and then his steal led to an Antonis Fotsis slam and a 7-point Green lead. Finley sank 3 free throws, Maciulis rifled in a triple and Fotsis’s near-block of Finley’s fast-break layup was ruled goaltending as the hosts came back to take an 18-17 lead. A TV timeout didn’t cool Armani Jeans down as Petravicius scored down low. The Milano bench was slapped with a technical foul and after Spanoulis made the resulting free throws and Pekovic scored down low, Panathinaikos was back ahead. Maciulis scored the final basket of the quarter to give Milano a 22-21 edge after 10 minutes.
Pekovic stayed strong and Nick Calathes came off the bench as Panathinaikos regained the lead, but Stefano Mancinelli battled inside for a foul and 2 free throws that tied the score at 25-25. Calathes responded for the visitors, however Marco Mordente’s triple put Milano back on top and Mancinelli’s fast break layup led to a Panathinaikos timeout. Milenko Tepic tied the game at 30-30 with a three for his first points in a Green uniform. Panathinaikos ran into a problem when Pekovic was called for his third foul, but Spanoulis fueled his team with a three with a minute remaining. Mason Rocca scored inside and Massimo Bulleri beat the buzzer with a jumper to give Armani Jeans a 38-35 lead at halftime.
Acker provided a highlight early in the third quarter when he came from the weak side to block Spanoulis’s layup and then pulled up for a triple on Milano’s next possession. Spanoulis answered with a basket only to see Bulleri hit back with a three from the corner. Spanoulis continued to provide the fight for Panathinaikos with a three of his own. After a pair of Petravivius free throws, Diamantidis carved through the Milano defense for a layup. Petravicius found a cutting Acker for a slam, but Pekovic’s free throws kept the Greens close. Giorgi Shermadini scored in the paint to narrow the gap to 2. Perperoglou bombed one in from the corner and then banked in a short jumper from the paint as Panathinaikos regained the lead, 50-51. Despite a timeout, Perperoglou stayed hot with a steal and layup. After Rocca scored from the line, Diamantidis drilled a three that gave his team a 52-56 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Finley started the last quarter with a basket and Mancinelli made a spectacular drive through the Panathinaikos defense to tie the score. Mancinelli followed that up with an offensive rebound and a nifty scoop to put Milano back on top 58-56. Tough defense from both sides kept points off the board. Spanoulis drilled a triple to put Panathinaikos back on top, however Finley went coast to coast for a layup as the lead changed hands again. Perperoglou came up big with 2 free throws and another basket. The Greens faced a headache inside when Shermadini committed his fifth foul, but Spanoulis managed to put his team up 5. A Maciulis three revived Milano’s hopes at 63-65, but Diamantidis stepped up with a tip-in and a steal and layup. Pekovic fouled out, leaving the visitors without a natural center, but Acker missed twice from the line and Spanoulis sank 2 free throws with two minutes remaining to make it 63-71. Acker did get a basket for his side, but Diamantidis hit 3 more free throws to seal the win.
Thursday, October 22, 2009