After three unexpected losses in Top 16 and playing even most of the fourth game at home, Panathinaikos exploded in the last 8 minutes on Wednesday to down previously undefeated Cibona 88-69 in Athens for its first Group G victory. Panathinaikos improved to 1-3 in the Group G standings and faces a do-or-die situation by visiting Efes Pilsen in Istanbul next week. Meanwhile, Cibona dropped to 3-1 but keeps all its playoff hopes alive. Vassilis Spanoulis led the winners with 22 points and hit 9 of his 10 free throw chances. Fragiskos Alvertis added 18 points, the same as Mike Batiste, who also pulled 11 rebounds for a double-double. Dejan Tomasevic and Jaka Lakovic each chipped in 10 points for Panathinaikos. Scoonie Penn once again led Cibona with 19 points, while Bennett Davison contributed 12 and Damir Rancic 11 for the guests, who had led by 9 points late in the third quarters. Cibona was till up 62-63 with under 8 minutes to go, which is when Panathinaikos broke the game open with a mammoth 19-0 run in which Lakovic, Spanoulis and Tomasevic combined for 15 points.
Tomasevic got Panathinaikos off to a flying start at 4-0, but Cibona soon showed why it arrived undefeated in the Top 16. Rancic buried a triple and then Davison took over, first stealing and feeding Mate Skelin for an uncontested layup, then rising for a two-handed dunk to make it 4-7. Another basket by Davison forced Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic to call a timeout. However, the momentum did not shift, as the hosts missed consecutive open shots from the arc and went scoreless for more than 4 minutes before Tomasevic finally broke through with a basket. Cibona remained in charge thanks to a gutsy triple by Rancic and the outstanding performance of Penn. Spanoulis came on to ignite a quick 6-0 run for Panathinaikos, yet Penn flashed his way to the basket for a 16-22 Cibona lead. Then came Alvertis time, as the Greens' captain stepped in and connected from downtown. But Cibona had established its own hot player, Penn, who drilled a jumper off a great crossover dribble to put his team ahead, 19-24 after 10 minutes.
Penn opened the second quarter with another jumper but Alvertis was clearly on fire proceeded to drill 2 triples among his 8 points in a 10-3 run that let Panathinaikos tie the score at 29-29. After some empty possessions were traded, Skelin sank a free throw and Davison a layup to restore a 31-34 Cibona advantage. Still, Panathinaikos kept hot in the heels of the guests due to Alvertis once again picking up the scoring slack and inspiring his teammates. It was Vlado Scepanovic who would hit a jumper that reclaimed the lead for Panathinaikos at 35-34 and brought the crowd alive after 16 minutes. After a Cibona timeout, both teams exchanged baskets until a three-point bomb by Spanoulis and free throws by Batiste gave Panathinaikos a 42-38 gap. Behind points by Skelin and Davor Kus, hard-nosed Cibona tied it again, 42-42, but the Greens kept the lead at intermission due to another basket by Batiste.
The second half got underway with a barrage of three-pointers. Penn and Kus fired in from the arc for the visitors, Lakovic followed for Panathinaikos, and then Rancic ended the shooting display with his third triple to put Cibona up 47-51. Another triple by Penn boosted the lead to 47-54 as he continued to orchestrate the Cibona offense like a master a layup by Kus gave the visitors a 51-60 lead that silenced the passionate Panathinaikos home fans. Panathinaikos now opted for giving the ball inside to Batiste, who worked in the paint for two baskets that cut the deficit to 57-60. Then Spanoulis scored on a gutsy drive before his turnover let Cibona stay ahead 59-60 despite no points at all for the guests over the last 3 minutes of the third quarter.
It took more than 2 minutes of the fourth quarter for Cibona to score a basket, a triple by Penn that was enough to give the guests a 62-63 lead. Seconds later, Tomasevic muscled inside for a basket-plus-free throw, and though he missed the extra shot, Dimitris Diamantidis scored off the rebound to make it 66-63. Davor Marcelic's three-pointer rattled in and out before Papanikolaou scored on the break, evidence of a tide changing in favor of Panathinaikos. Cibona was unable to regain control while the crowd erupted and sent the noise level off the meter. Lakovic now emerged with 5 consecutive points to forge a double-digit Panathinaikos lead with 4:36 left. A swarming Panathinaikos defense kept Cibona struggling, so when Lakovic raced on the break after a steal by Alvertis, his layup capped an ultimately decisive 19-0 run. Eventually, Damir Markota converted a three-point play that was Cibona's first field goal after almost 7 minutes, but nothing changed in the waning seconds as the Greens stayed alive with their first victory in the Top 16.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006