Panathinaikos started the 2011 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four with a hard-fought 77-69 victory over Montepaschi Siena at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona to reach the Euroleague title game for the third time in five seasons. Nick Calathes scored a career-high 17 points and Dimitris Diamantidis came within 1 of a semifinal record with 9 assists to lead Panathinaikos. Head coach Zeljko Obradovic, the winningest coach in Euroleague history, will go for his eighth crown and Panthinaikos’s sixth on Sunday against the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and Real Madrid. Siena started strong and dominated the offensive glass to lead for the first quarter-and-a-half. But mounting foul trouble and poor outside shooting hurt the Italian champs and Panathinaikos battled its way back with Calathes, Antonis Fotsis and Mike Batiste all contributing key points for a 40-36 halftime edge. A 9-2 push to start the second half put the Greens in total control and although Montepaschi continued to fight, it never got closer than 5 again. Batiste added 16 points and 7 rebounds and Fotsis scored 14 for the Greens. Meanwhile Rimantas Kaukenas scored 12 for Siena, which is now 0-4 in the Euroleague semifinals. Malik Hairston scored 12 and Milovan Rakovic 10, while Shaun Stonerook amassed 14 rebounds in defeat.
The opening tip went to Panathinaikos and the game’s first action was Diamantidis drawing an off-the-ball foul from David Moss, who was head coach Simone Pianigiani’s choice to guard the star point guard, sjust 7 seconds in. Siena got on the scoreboard first through a Marko Jaric steal and Ksistof Lavrinovic layup, but a Diamantidis steal and pass to Calathes for a layup soon evened the score. The opening minutes saw the teams trading blow for blow. Moss got to the line for 2 free throws and Diamantidis fed Fotsis for an alley-oop slam at the other end. Lavrinovic broke free for an open three and Romain Sato equaled him for the Greens. Rakovic scored twice on the offensive glass to give Siena its first two-possession lead, but then picked up his second foul and was on the bench less than five minutes into the game. Moss soon followed him with his second foul, but the Italian champs stayed hot. Lavrinovic found perfect position for a basket inside and Kaukenas, who came in for Moss, nailed a jumper to make it 10-5. Batiste, who came off the bench, started to make in impact with 3 free throws over two possessions, to narrow the gap. Despite a picture-perfect jumper from Kaukenas, foul trouble continued to mount for Siena as Stonerook was whistled for his second. Fotsis and Calathes made free throws to close the gap to 17-19. A Montepaschi turnover gave the Greens a chance to go ahead, but a Diamantidis triple was cancelled out because of offensive interference on Batiste, who touched the rim before the ball dropped through. Siena quickly countered through Nikos Zisis, who beat the buzzer with a jumper to make it 17-21 after 10 minutes.
Marco Carraretto came on for the second quarter, meaning that Pianigiani had already used 11 players. Defenses continued to shine, with each team denying the other in transition. Montepaschi’s superior offensive rebounding gave it extra chances. Jeleel Akindele grabbed his team’s 10th before Panathinaikos had its first and got to the line for 2 free throws. Drew Nicholas buried a triple to make it 20-24, but an unsportsmanlike foul on Sato for elbowing Carraretto in the back allowed the latter to make free throws and keep his team ahead. Bo McCalebb joined the party, becoming the 12th Montepaschi man to see action all before the midway points of the second quarter. Calathes and Stonerook traded points from the line. Stratos Perperoglou darted through the Siena defense for a layup only to see McCalebb outdo him with a basket-and-foul to make it 24-30. Seconds later the momentum was with Panathinaikos as Ian Vougioukas scored underneath and drew a third foul from Rakovic. Then Diamantidis set Calathes up for a reverse layup-plus-foul from Akindele. After a Siena timeout, Calathes missed the free throw, but the Greens finally got their first offensive rebound. Akindele preserved the lead by blocking a Perperoglou shot, but it was short-lived. Fotsis and Perperoglou drained threes on successive trips down the court, first giving Panathinaikos its first lead on the night and then pushing the advantage to 32-35. Montepaschi did not falter, but Batiste took charge with a slam to lift the lead to 4. Akindele kept it close with a two-handed jam thanks to a fine dish from McCalebb. Fotsis got to the line to lift the Greens to 40-36 and McCalebb missed at the buzzer to signal halftime.
Panathinaikos kept the momentum it had earned before halftime as Fotsis started the second half with a long jumper. But Moss went inside for his first basket. The defenses clamped down at both ends and points were coming at a premium. Loose balls brought piles of bodies diving across the court as both teams made sure to leave nothing on the floor. Moss made a stand with a big block, but Zisis’s triple bounced in and out at the other end. With more than five minutes gone in the third quarter, each team had scored just once. Panathinaikos got an important advantage when Lavrinovic was called for his fourth foul while going for a rebound. Calathes’s fifth made free throw of the night put the Greens up 5. A Rakovic hook rolled around the rim and out and Calathes punished Siena with a transition layup. Batiste added to Siena’s misery with a jumper and after Montepaschi’s next miss, Rakovic was assessed his fourth foul while going for the offensive rebound. Batiste took his team’s lead to double figures, 49-38, with a pair of free throws. McCalebb got to the line to end Siena’s scoring drought, but its shots still weren’t falling. Instead Fotsis brought his team’s fans to their feet with a triple. Moss scored from the line and Hairston added a triple to bring their team back to life at 52-45. But with 4 fouls, Rakovic was soft on defense and Kostas Tsartsaris took advantage. And the rebound of a wide-open McCalebb missed three fell to Diamantidis who assisted Calathes to make it 56-47 at the end of the third quarter.
Hairston connected from downtown to fuel the spirits of the Siena faithful, however Calathes responded quickly with a layup. Diamantidis dropped in a three from the top of the circle and a Stonerook turnover followed to give Panathinaikos the momentum. However, after Batiste missed twice from the line, Stonerook nailed a triple and to make it a game again at 61-55. Panathinaikos suddenly went cold on the attack, but Montepaschi was unable to capitalize. Instead Vougioukas set up Calathes for a layup and soon Panathinaikos was back in total control. Lavrinovic took a seat with 5 fouls and Diamantidis made it 68-57 with four-and-a-half minutes to play. Kaukenas gave Siena hope with a triple-and-foul only to see Batiste answer on the offensive glass. Rakovic scored inside to make it 72-65 with two minutes remaining. A dribbling violation on Perperoglou opened a door for Siena and Rakovic narrowed the gap to 5 with 1:23 to play, but Batiste followed with a basket down low and Diamantidis slammed the door shut with 2 free throws with 36.1 seconds remaining to seal the win and set off the celebrations for the Panathinaikos fans.
Friday, May 6, 2011