Facing its second consecutive do-or-die game, Panathinaikos stayed in the fight to reach the Quarterfinal Playoffs from Group G by beating Efes Pilsen 56-66 on the road in Istanbul on Wednesday. Both teams now have 2-3 records, but Wednesday's margin of victory means that Panathinaikos has the advantage if the two teams finish the Top 16 in a head-to-head tie. Kostas Tsartsaris and Jaka Lakovic led the winners each with 14 points, while Dejan Tomasevic added 11 and Mike Batiste 10. Tsartsaris grabbed 9 rebounds and Batiste 8 for the Greens, who won the battle of the boards 26-37. Antonio Granger was the only Efes player to score in dougle digits, with 20 points. Panathinaikos used a 0-12 run in which Nikos Hatzivrettas had 8 points to get a 16-23 lead after 10 minutes. Efes stayed in the game and even managed to close within a basket at 35-37 right after the break. Lakovic and Batiste helped Panathinaikos avoid the danger by boosting the margin until it hit a high of 44-60 margin with 5 minutes to go, enough to seal the win.
Efes placed Ermal Kuqo, back from a season-long suspension, in the starting five, and he immediately delivered with a jump hook that Domercant followed with free throws for a 4-0 lead. Hatzivrettas got Panathinaikos going with a triple, a close basket and basket-plus-free throw to give his team its first lead, 4-8. Tomasevic scored twice the low post for a 4-12 margin, after a 0-12 run in which Hatzivrettas had 8 points. Efes called a much-needed timeout and Kuqo tried to wake his team up with a four-meter baseline jumper, but Lakovic hit 3 free throws to give the Greens a 6-15 lead. Panathinakos kept shining on defense, as Tsartsaris followed a blocked shot with a corner triple to make it a 12-point game, 6-18. Granger and Erden Arslan made free throws for Efes, but Vlado Scepanovic erased them with a three-pointer. Niksa Prkacin and Kerem Gonlum scored around the basket, and after a Panathinaikos timeout, Scepanovic used a second-chance layup to keep the guests ahead 16-23 after 10 minutes.
Batiste posted a power layup and a dunk in traffic to push the Panathinaikos advantage to 16-27 early in the second quarter. Gonlum made free throws, which he followed with an outstanding dunk to give Efes some hope at 20-27. The Greens struggled against an Efes zone defense now, while Granger banked in a three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer to bring Efes within 23-27. Panathinaikos did not panic, as Tomasevic made free throws while Batiste followed a basket in transition with an acrobatic layup to make Efes call timeout at 23-33. Kuqo shined with a put-back basket while Granger hit a triple from the top to make it 28-33. Batiste stepped up with a layup but Granger answered again from downtown to make it a four-point game, 31-35. Panathinaikos called timeout and Tomasevic made free throws, but Ender Arslan scored in penetration to keep the differance at 33-37 at halftime.
Peker brought Efes even closer, 35-37, with a jump hook in Efes' opening possession of the second half, but Tsartsaris answered from downtown to keep the Greens ahead. Both teams exchanged turnovers and went scoreless for 2 minutes as the game turned into a physical battle. Tomasevic made a free throw while Lakovic scored in penetration and then hit a six-meter jumper in transition to boost the Panathinaikos margin back to double digits, 35-45. Granger fired in his fourth three-pointer but Tsartsaris dunked against the Efes zone. The hosts called timeout and Niksa Prkacin worked well in the low post to score, but otherwise Panathinaikos kept dominating the game due to outstanding defense. Granger made free throws but Batiste kept rebounding well at both ends while Vassilis Spanoulis shined with a layup-plus-free throw for a 42-51 margin. Then, Tsartsaris stepped up with a tip-in that boosted the Greens' lead to 42-53 after 30 minutes.
Panathinaikos tried to play with long possessions early in the final period, as Efes simply collapsed on offense. Tsartsaris dunked again for a new high lead of 42-55. Efes kept committing turnovers while Lakovic buried a three-pointer to make it a 16-point game, 42-58. Cenk Akyol scored in penetration off an Efes timeout but the hosts suffered from poor shot selection throughout the quarter. Panathinaikos followed its game plan with strong defense, two-on-one situations and long possessions. Tsartsaris made free throws for a 44-60 lead midway through this quarter. Free throws by Granger and a layup by Gonlum brought Efes within 49-61. Kuqo buried a three but Lakovic kept the Greens fully in charge, 53-65, with under 2 minutes to go. The outcome was clear but both teams kept fighting now for tie-break purposes in the eventuality of three or even four-way ties. Free throws by Granger fixed the final score at 56-66.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006