Panathinaikos mathematically advanced to the Top 16 by holding off a wild rally to edge Partizan Igokea 67-66 in Athens, Greece, in Group C on Wednesday. Panathinaikos improved to 9-1 in Group C and has a five-game lead over its potential opponents for the sixth place with four games to go, enough to seal a Top 16 spot. Meanwhile, Partizan dropped to 4-6. Sarunas Jasikevicius paced the winners with 17 points. Dusan Kecman led Partizan with 22 points on 8-for-9 two-point shooting and 8 rebounds while Nikola Pekovic posted yet another double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds for the guests. Despite being outrebounded 23-46 tonight, Panathinaikos controlled the game for 34 minutes, as a basket by Nikos Hatzivrettas gave the Greens a 59-45 lead with less than seven minutes to go. Pekovic and Uros Tripkovic fueled the guests' comeback, and a driving layup by Milt Palacio got Partizan within 67-66. Kecman collected a steal that gave Partizan the chance to win the game with 2.4 seconds remaining, but Pekovic could not score in the game's final possession.
In front of its noisy home crowd, Panathinaikos was the first to leave the holiday break behind. The Greens went scoreless for almost three minutes, but a three-point play by Mike Batiste ignited a 10-0 run in which Kostas Tsartsaris had 4 points, including a basket that gave Panathinaikos a 10-2 margin. Partizan had gone 1-for-8 from the field so far, which led coach Dusko Vujosevic to call a much-needed timeout. The guests found a go-to guy in Pekovic, who had started to dominate the boards with 7 rebounds in as many minutes. Pekovic also started to be effective in offense, while a free throw by Slavko Vranes and a basket by Cedomir Vitkovac got the guests within 14-13, forcing Panathinaikos to call timeout. Both teams opted now for a 2-3 zone defense, as free throws by Dimitris Diamantidis and a final basket by Kecman fixed the score at 16-15 at the end of a first quarter marked by both teams' constant trips to the foul line.
Both Panathinaikos and Partizan traded missed shots and turnovers early in the second quarter until Batiste stepped up with a wild two-handed dunk to get the scoreboard rolling after 3:34 with no points. Partizan kept misfiring badly and struggled to score, while Vassilis Spanoulis took over with two impressive assists and a free throw that allowed Panathinaikos to get 24-15 lead. After a much-needed Partizan timeout, the guests finally scored their first basket in the second quarter – a catch-and-shoot triple by Kecman with three minutes to go. Even with that, Jasikevicius stepped up with back-to-back mid-range jumpers to keep the Greens fully in charge. Partizan did not surrender and soon Kecman ignited a 0-7 run that got the guests back in the game at 29-26. Fragiskos Alvertis answered with free throws but then Petar Bozic bettered that with a triple. Jasikevicius added more foul shots to give Panathinaikos a 33-29 halftime lead.
Panathinaikos rolled after the break, as Diamantidis fired in one from beyond the arc and Alvertis copied him soon after that to give the Greens a 39-31 margin. Kennedy Winston took over, as he collected a steal, drew an unsportsmanlike foul and soon scored again on an alley-oop layup to make it a 12-point game after a 10-2 run. Pekovic tried to change things with a monster dunk, but a basket by Sani Becirovic and a three-pointer by Winston boosted the hosts' lead to 48-33 midway through the third quarter. Partizan soon got back in track, as the guests improved their defense to get back in the game. Palacio and Kecman fueled Partizan's comeback to get the guests within single digits, 50-41. Coach Zeljko Obradovic pulled an ace out of his sleeve, asking Demos Dikoudis to come off the bench and provide some instant offense. Dikoudis immediately delivered with a layup-plus-foul that allowed Panathinaikos to get a 55-43 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Partizan had made just 3 of 16 three-pointers in the opening three quarters, so it looked like Partizan would have it hard to rally in the fourth period. A basket by Nikos Hatzivrettas kept Panathinaikos way ahead, 59-45, with seven minutes to go. Partizan improved its defense right when it mattered, not allowing Panathinaikos to find easy shots. Meanwhile, a three-point play by Pekovic ignited the guests' comeback while Tripkovic added 7 consecutive points to bring Partizan back in the game, 61-59, as all Panathinaikos fans at OAKA could not believe their eyes. Jasikevicius stepped up with a critical triple and even when Kecman scored in the other end, Saras answered with a driving layup for a 66-61 Panathinaikos edge. Pekovic was all over the place in the paint, dominating the boards and giving Partizan vital second-chance options. Palacio hit a free throw to cut the Greens' lead to 66-64. Spanoulis hit a free throw and Partizan had 18 seconds to send the game to overtime. Palacio shined with a driving layup and then Kecman forced Jasikevicius to commit a turnover, giving Partizan the chance to seal its comeback. Pekovic failed to finish the alley-oop pass from Palacio with 2.4 seconds remaining, allowing Panathinaikos to escape with a hard-fought win.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008