Despite losing twice at home, Panathinaikos reached Top 16 Week 6 with the chance to win Group G and get the home-court advantage in the playoffs. Unics was on a five-game home winning streak, but Panathinaikos managed to play an excellent defensive game at the right time. Mike Batiste and Sarunas Jasikevicius led the Greens to a 63-68 road win in which Panathinaikos proved not only that it can beat anyone, anywhere, but that it is ready for the playoffs.
Panathinaikos leads the 2011-12 Euroleague in steals (8.4 spg.) and opponents' turnovers committed (15.5 topg.), showing that its defense is, as in all of Coach Zeljko Obradovic's teams, ready to read passing lines and play with a lot of intensity. Panathinaikos leads all playoffs teams in offensive rebounding (11.6 orpg.), which proves its aggressiveness and concentration. Only three teams - Fenerbahce Ulker, Unicaja and CSKA - have been able to outrebound the defending champs head to head until now.
Often overlooked, but highly appreciated by all of his coaches, Romain Sato is a pillar for Panathinaikos at both ends. A great one-on-one defender, Sato leads Panathinaikos in rebounding (6.1 rpg.) and is its third-best scorer (9.2 ppg.). Only Euroleague MVP Dimitris Diamantidis has started as many games (15) as Sato this season. Intangibles like his winning mentality, hustle, intensity and big game experience make Sato a critical player entering the playoffs.
Panathinaikos suffered back-to-back regular season losses before its trip to Malaga. And Unicaja led 75-71 with 15.4 seconds left, but Diamantidis buried back-to-back three-pointers to lead Panathinaikos to a 76-77 road win in epic fashion. Diamantidis downed a career-high 7 shots from downtown in that game and his late heroics sparked a three-game winning streak that allowed the reigning champs to lock up second place in regular season Group B.
it has not been easy for Panathinaikos to defend its title. The Greens have never got past the Top 16 after lifting the trophy in 2002, 2007 and 2009. Now that Panathinaikos is in the playoffs, being the reigning champion has an impact in this series. Most of its current roster helped Panathinaikos to beat Maccabi in last year's Euroleague final, which gives the Greens a psychological advantage in what promises to be a great battle for a Final Four spot.