Panathinaikos showed that no team in Group F ever says die when it downed defending champion FC Barcelona 64-67 on the road Thursday thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Kostas Tsartsaris. The victory raised Panathinaikos to 2-3 and dropped Barca to the same record - all three of its losses at home - while also doing a favour to Montepaschi, who beat Benetton in Siena and is now the only team in Group F which depends on itself to make it to the Final Four. Benetton and Montepaschi are tied for the top spot in Group F with a 3-2 records. If Montepaschi can win at Panathinaikos next week it will go to Tel Aviv because it owns head-to-head tie-break advantages over Benetton. Barca and Panathinaikos can only advance to the Final Four if a four-way takes place and one of them has the best point differential in the group. Jaka Lakovic led the winners with 17 points and 5 steals. Haris Mujezinovic added 15 on 3 of 5 threes for the winners, and Nikos Hatzivrettas added 11. Dejan Bodiroga led all scorers with 22 points on 5 of 6 two-pointers and 2 of 3 threes for Barcelona, while Juan Carlos Navarro added 16 points.
Barcelona had a strong start, busting out on a 6-3 opening run capped by a reverse layup from Anderson Varejao, who had missed the previous Euroleague game. The good times didn't last long, however, as Mujezinovic went on fire, scoring the opening 8 points for Panathinaikos to give the Greens a 6-8 midway through the quarter. No other player had scored for the guests through 6 minutes, but tough defense kept them alive. A three-pointer by Vlado Ilievski and a mid-range jumper by Rodrigo De La Fuente ignited a 9-2 run which gave Barcelona a 19-12 lead after 2 foul shots by Bodiroga, but Hatzivrettas made a wild six-meter jumper at the buzzer to bring the Greens within 19-14 after 10 minutes.
Lakovic had been scoreless in the opening quarter, but rifled in 7 quick points early in the second to let Panathinaikos regain a lead at 21-23 after a fast break layup by Hatzivrettas. Barcelona called timeout to discuss how to attack the Greens' zone defense. Bodiroga picked up his third foul soon after that, but Barcelona improved without its leader on court, looking for Roberto Dueñas and Patrick Femerling in the middle. Even so, Panathinaikos kept the lead at 28-34 with 5 consecutive points by Lakovic. Navarro drilled a three in the final seconds to bring Barcelona within 31-34 at halftime. Lakovic had singlehandedly led the Greens, scoring 13 points in the second quarter, on more than Barcelona's 12 in the same 10 minutes.
To start the third quarter, Barcelona carried on struggling against Panathinaikos's 2-3 zone defense, while a five-meter jumper by Georgios Kalaitzis and a layup by Lakovic extended the Greens' lead to 31-38. Barcelona needed a go-to guy and Bodiroga - who else? - took over with 4 points and an assist in a 6-0 run which brought the hosts back into the game at 37-38. Even when Bodiroga drilled 2 shots from downtown and Navarro tied the game at 42-42 with a floating jumper, however, the defending champs failed to take the lead. With 4 points by Mujezinovic, a basket by Darryl Middleton and a big three by Kalaitzis, Panathinaikos held onto a 47-49 lead after 30 minutes.
It was do-or-die time for Barcelona, and the hosts regained the lead at 52-51 after a big jumper by Bodiroga and a three-pointer by Navarro. Panathinaikos returned to man-to-man defense once Navarro drilled another one from beyond the arc for a 55-53 local lead. It worked, as the Greens regained the lead with a shot-clock beater by Hatzivrettas and a turnaround jumper by Middleton, whil the hosts were limited to 2 points over more than 5 minutes. Lakovic and Mujezinovic extended the Greens' lead to 57-63 with 2 minutes to go, but Panathinaikos went scoreless for a minute, while Bodiroga and Navarro combined for 4 points to make it a two-point game at 61-63 with 40 seconds to go. A carousel of free throws followed, in which Kalaitzis and Hatzivrettas missed 3 out of 4, while Bodiroga drilled 3 of 4, but missed his last one to give Panathinaikos the final possession of the game. Off an inbounds play in the Greens' offensive end, Tsartsaris drilled a three from the left corner right at the buzzer to change the look of Group F once again.
Thursday, April 1, 2004