There were two winners in Athens on Thursday night as Panathinaikos edged Montepaschi Siena 77-76, but the visitors clinched a spot in the Quarterfinal Playoffs. The defending Euroleague champion held on to win a seesaw thriller that went down to the final second, improving to 3-2 in Group D. Panathinaikos visits Partizan Igokea next week knowing that a win secures its participation in the next stage. Meanwhile the Italian champs also sit at 3-2, the same as Partizan, but have tiebreakers over both clubs, meaning Montepaschi as already in the quarterfinals. A win at home over Efes Pilsen next week will give head coach Simone Pianigiani’s the top spot and home-court advantage in the best-of-three quarterfinals. The game was a back-and-forth battle with the visitors coming out red-hot from downtown as they built a 12-27 lead. Panathinaikos stormed back to within 43-45 by halftime and then went ahead in the third quarter. But Montepaschi never quit down to the last seconds, when Vlado Ilievski missed from downtown and two tip-ins both were off target, allowing Panathinaikos to win. Mike Batiste led Panathinaikos with 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting. Vassilis Spanoulis added 13, Sarunas Jasikevicius 12 and Efstratios Perperoglou had a season-high 11. Bootsy Thornton paced Montepaschi with 19, Terrell McIntyre scored 15 and dished 5 assists, Ksistof Lavrinovic chipped in 12 and Ilievski 10.
Despite the fact that the volume was high enough to pierce an eardrum, Montepaschi Siena rushed ahead 0-8 behind triples by McIntyre and Romain Sato, forcing head coach Zelimir Obradovic to call an urgent timeout with 8:34 left. McIntyre was too hot to back down though and continued his three-point blitz to shock the crowd. Finally, after three empty minutes, Batiste worked his way in the paint to get the scoreboard rolling, yet once again McIntyre exposed the Greens’ defense as he finished the fastbreak for a double-digit lead, 3-13. Siena was very energetic on both ends and soon, when Bootsy Thornton picked up the scoring slack with 7 consecutive points, the guests extended their advantage to a whopping 7-20. After a much-needed timeout, Spanoulis provided some spark from beyond the arc, but Siena stayed focused and retorted behind Lavrinovic for a 10-24 lead. Jacikevicius came off the bench to change the momentum of the game, only to bow behind Siena’s ability to hit the open shots. However, the reigning Euroleague Champions did not surrender and thanks to Batiste – I he scored a basket and the free-throw that came with it and then he threw down a one-handed dunk – managed to pull within 17-27.
Batiste opened the second quarter with yet another monstrous dunk and a three-point play to send the level noise off the meter. Then, as Panathinaikos was now flashing some of its trademark defense, Stratos Perperoglou stole the ball and capped a 12-0 surge to close the gap to 24-27. Instead of folding, Siena responded with a triple by Vlado Ilievski to end the dry spell. Still, Jasikevicius unleashed a triple and few possessions later the great Lithuanian knocked down an off-balanced jumper and a free-throw to keep the hosts close on Siena’s heels 31-34. The guests were very passionate, but they were struggling against Panathinaikos’ swarming defense. As a result, they lost their composure and allowed reserve Perperoglou to go from jack to king and give the hosts their first lead, 37-36. The tide was seemingly turning on Panathinaikos’ way, but McIntyre thought otherwise and stepped up to reclaim the advantage for Siena, 43-45, at intermission.
The second half commenced with Jasikevicius passing and Batiste tying the game with a power layup. Thornton and Perperoglou exchanged points, but it was evident now that the tempo had slowed down a bit. That was until Nikola Prkacin scored on a hook shot and at the other end Spanoulis grabbed a rebound and stepped on the gas to finish the fast break and boost the margin to 53-47. Siena could not breath against the hosts’ lock-down defense, however McIntyre blasted a wild triple to rejuvenate his teammates. With the score at 56-53, Demos Dikoudis failed to capitalize on Spanoulis’s great pass and Shaun Stonerook punished the hosts as he connected from downtown with 2:22 to go. Then, Ilievski hit a buzzer-beating triple to turn the game topsy-turvy and cap an impressive 2-13 run for a 56-60 lead. It was time for Jasikevicius to bear offensive responsibility and so he did as he fired in a three-pointer. With the clock ticking down, Thronton split a pair of free throws and Dimitris Diamantidis, when everyone thought that the period was over, nailed an amazing highlight reel bomb from midcourt to push Panathinaikos ahead 62-61.
Defenses took over in the final period, as, with six minutes remaining, the score was knotted at 64-65. In what was though an unpredictable battle of epic proportions, Perperoglou pulled a triple out of his sleeve, only to be followed by Sato who hit a contested three-pointer that put Siena 67-68 in front. However, the formidable backcourt of Panathinaikos saved the last word for itself, as first Spanoulis and then Nikos Hatzivrettas connected from beyond the arc to built a 75-70 lead with two minutes left to play. The experienced hosts were surprisingly too enthusiastic to control the rhythm of the game. They choose not to dribble out most of the shot clock, but to shoot the ball, which allowed Montepaschi to pull within 75-74. Down the stretch, Batiste produced in the paint, and Ilievski drove to the basket to make it a 1-point game with 13 seconds remaining. And when Diamatidis was called for charging, Montepaschi had one more chance. However, the guests did not take advantage of their last possession, as Ilievski tried an off-balanced triple and then neither Lavrinovic nor Thornton managed to tip the ball into the basket as Panathinaikos escaped victorious.
Thursday, March 13, 2008