Drawing on all its experience and tradition, Panathinaikos came back from 8 points down in the fourth quarter to nail down a crucial 80-76 Group B home win against visiting Montepaschi in Athens on Wednesday. The victory tied both teams at 6-6 and lifted Panathinaikos within reach of the Top 16. It also opened up the possibility of a three-way tie if Zalgiris (5-6) should beat Maccabi in Tel Aviv on Thursday . A late rally of the Greens was culminated when Arriel McDonald tied for 69-69 and from there, Fragiskos Alvertis launched Panathinaikos to the win with 5 consecutive points. McDonald and Dimitris Papanikolaou led the winners with 14 points each, Alvertis added 12, Jaka Lakovic nailed 11 and Darryl Middleton contributed 10 and 9 rebounds. For Siena, Giacomo Galanda was the best man with 15 points including 3 of 4 triples, David Andersen added 14, David Vanterpool 12 and Mindaugas Zukauskas 11.
Panathinaikos came out running behind Jaka Lakovic and took a 6-2 lead, but Marvis Thornton responded with 5 points himself in a 0-8 Montepaschi run to a 6-10 advantage. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic decided to call Mike Batiste and Giorgos Kalaitzis from the bench, the latter to defend Montepaschi point guard Vrbica Stefanov. The Greens responded with 5 unanswered points to take back the lead at 11-10. Panathinaikos had found its momentum, pushed by a three-pointer from McDonald against Montepaschi's zone defense as the hosts soared ahead 19-13 after 9 minutes. Alvertis added a jumper before a pair of free throws by Mindaugas Zukauskas pulled Montepaschi within 21-15 after 10 minutes.
With Mikalis Kakiouzis and Zukauskas on court together, Montepaschi moved the ball better in the second quarter, creating good offensive opportunities to take advantage of turnovers by Panathinaikos. Kakiouzis bagged 4 consecutive points to tie the game 21-21 and the Zukauskas completed a 0-10 run that covered almost 4 minutes and gave Montepaschi a 21-23 lead. Kalaitzis soon sank a three-pointer to put the Greens back in front, 29-25, but the visitors answered and didn't let Panahinaikos extend the margin. Zukauskas hit his own tirple a new Montepaschi advantage, 33-34, so then it was Panathinaikos's turn to find their weapons and make a 7-1 run to control the scoreboard at 40-35. The big contributor in that surge was Dimitris Papanikolaou, whose points helped the Greens stay ahead 42-39 at the break.
When the teams returned for the third quarter, Papanikolaou for Panathinaikos and Giacomo Galanda for Montepaschi caught fire. Papanikolaou figured out the Montepaschi zone and scored 6 of his team's first 8 points, while Galanda almost matched him with 2 consecutive three-pointers. Though the visitors cut the margin to 46-45, Panathinaikos would lead again by 50-45 until Montepaschi made its move with a 0-7 breakaway to a 50-52 lead. With Nikos Hatzivrettas scoreless through 25 minutes, the Greens were in trouble. Montepaschi coach Carlo Recalcati decided to use twin towers Andersen and Galanda against the shorter Panathinaikos front line and the visitors built a 52-58 margin after 28 minutes. Montepaschi seemed to control the situation as the third period closed with a 57-63 scoreboard thanks to another big three by Galanda at the buzzer.
Even as Montepaschi's lead swelled to 8 points, 57-65, early in the final quarter, Panathinaikos didn’t give up. With great defense and a lot of trapping, the Greens followed an inspired McDonald on an 11-0 sprint to a new 68-65 edge after 34 minutes. Hatzivrettas finally scored for the hosts, while Galanda again gave his team breathing room with a go-ahead basket for 68-69. Then, Alvertis decided to take responsibility. First he nailed 2 for 2 free throws and then he hit a miraculous three-pointer from the corner on the shot-clock buzzer to give Panathinaikos a five-point lead, 74-69. The Greens improved their run to 8-0 and led by 76-69, thanks to Lakovic, but Montepaschi didn't quit, but rather rallied to within 76-74. Another basket on the shot-clock buzzer, this one by Lakovic, and a layup by Darryl Middleton sealed the victory and sent the Panathinaikos fans homes making plans for the Top 16.
Wednesday, February 4, 2004