The breakthrough season of Montepaschi took a strong step higher on Wednesday with a no-doubt-about-it 84-75 home win over defending champion Panathinaikos in their Group D showdown in Siena, Italy. Siena raised its first-place record to 3-0 and has a foot or more already in the Quarterfinal Playoffs, while Panathinaikos fell to 1-2 halfway through the round. Siena excelled at both ends of the court, forcing 20 turnovers on the Greens while drilling 14 of 25 three-point shots, including back-to-back corner blasts by Shaun Stonerook with under 5 minutes left that settled the matter. Bootsy Thornton led the winners with 23 points, while Terrell McIntyre added 13, Romain Sato 11 and Stonerook 10. McIntyre, Thornton and Stonerook combined to hit 10 of 17 three-point attempts between them. Panathinaiks led at the beginning of the game and toyed with leads a couple times thereafter, but could never stop Siena from scoring long enough to take over the scoreboard. Mike Batiste led the Greens with 20 points, while Dimitris Diamantidis added 17 and Sarunas Jaskievicius 16.
Spanoulis got Panathinaikos rolling with a triple from the top, but Stonerook took only seconds to answer with the same shot for Siena. The Greens fed Batiste for a pair of inside baskets before Winston Kennedy fired in his first basket to give the visitors a 3-9 lead. Siena roared back behind 5 points in a row by Thornton that set up 5 more by Sato, good for a 10-0 run and 13-9 lead for the hosts. Kennedy and Batiste kept Panathinaikos within 15-13 before McIntyre joined the Siena scorers from downtown, got fouled and completed the four-point play for a 19-13 advantage. When Drake Diener became Siena's fourth player to hit a triple and third to score 5 consecutive points, the hosts were on their way to a 22-19 lead after 10 minutes.
Andrija Zizic and Diamantidis combined to push Panathinaikos back in front, 22-23, to start the second quarter. Siena got scoring and passing help from Ksystof Lavrinovic, who follwed his first basket with a backdoor assist for Thornton as the hosts went back up, 28-25. Becirovic became the new Panathinaikos contributor, with 4 points to propel the guests back in front, but neither team could hold the lead. Lavrinovic blasted a triple to take it back for Siena, Zizic tied for the Greens, and Sato kept the hosts ahead 33-31. Tomas Ress stepped on-court for Siena and immediately buried an open triple, then after a Panathinaikos turnover, McIntyre matched him with another. Siena was in charge at 39-33 and the Greens needed a timeout, after which Diamantidis lifted the guests with his own triple. Sato answered with free throws, but in the final minute of the half, Jasikevicius also struck from deep before Diamantidis and Vlado Ilievski traded foul shots, letting Panathinaikos cut Siena's lead to 43-40 at the break.
Siena kept going to Thornton to open the second half, taking advantage of his post-up skills to get a basket and 4 perfect free throws before Stonerook hit another from the line for the game's biggest lead yet, 50-42. As Siena waited to push the lead into double digits, Diamantidis again saved Panathinaikos by putting back an offensive rebound and then feeding Jasikevicius for a triple to make it 53-47. Thornton didn't wait to respond, hitting his own shot from downtown. Batiste got to the foul line and hit free throws for Panathinaikos, but for everything Siena had an answer, as Sato hit from outside for the hosts. Then, in response to a pair of inside baskets by Batiste against Siena's zone, Benjamin Eze and McIntyre played pick-and-roll for a two-pointer by the former and a triple by the latter. The hosts had their double-digit lead at last, 63-53, but then McIntyre got whistled for a technical foul. Jasikevicius dropped both free throws and then Zizic got loose for a jumper to again cut the difference, to 65-59 after three quarters.
Jasikevicius found Diamantidis alone on the arc for a triple to start the fourth quarter at 65-62. Eze and Becirovic traded buckets before a series of misses that Thornton - who else? - ended with a booming triple that got Siena back on its feet at 70-64. Ilievski then broke loose for a layup that threatened to break the game open again at 72-64. But Panathinaikos locked down its defense again and went back to Batiste in the paint for a basket and pair of free throws that left a 72-68 scoreboard. Under 5 minutes remained, and the key play came on an inbounds with 3 seconds left on Siena's shot clock. Stonerook cut diagonally to the corner, received and turned to nail a tirple to make it 75-68. After a long Panathinaikos possession that ended with Lavrinovic blocking Becirovic, Stonerook came the other way and found himself open in the opposite corner for another three-point blast to make it 78-68. After a timeout, Batiste hit free throws, making it 78-70 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left. Thornton fed a wide-open Lavrinovic under the basket, Jasikevicius answered with a running lane jumper, but then Panathinaikos let Ilievski rebound his own misses twice and then go to the foul line to reestablish a double-digit lead, 82-72, heading into the final minute. Diamantidis got a triple with 15 seconds remaining to trim the difference, in case point margins could help later in the round, but the victory was staying in Siena no matter what.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008