Defending champion Panathinaikos held off a spirited challenge from Brose Baskets Bamberg to improve to 2-0 this season with 66-61 home win at the Athens Indoor Olympic Hall (OAKA) on Wednesday evening. The Greens took several modest leads and then went up 11 heading into the fourth quarter, but Predrag Suput and Ademola Okulaja carried the visitors to within 1 point in the last minute of the game. With the game on the line, Panathinaikos knew in whose hands to put the ball and Sarunas Jasikevicius and Vassilis Spanoulis made the needed free throws with the game on the line, while Suput came up empty for the German champs, who fell to 0-2 in Group C after losing two games by a total of 8 points. Jasikevicius led Panathinaikos with 11 points, Spanoulis added 9 and Demos Dikoudis and Dimitrios Diamantidis 8 each. Suput netted 16, Chris Ensminger 11 and Steffen Hamann 10 for Bamberg.
Both teams came out rather flat offensively and after four minutes of play were locked at 4-4. The hosts had already bricked 4 free throws, which meant that they could not capitalize on their trademark defense. Finally, Dikoudis and Darren Fenn exchanged baskets in the paint and then Suput hit a triple to put Brose Baskets in front, 8-9. Diamantidis’s immediate response from beyond the arc got the crowd involved and moments later Spanoulis found Dikoudis for a 13-9 lead that forced coach Dirk Bauermann to call a time-out. With the score at 15-11, the Greens switched to a zone-defense, only to be punished by Robert Garrett's three-point shot from the corner. Diamantidis drove and fed Batiste for a reverse layup, yet Garrett loaded once again his three-point pistol to tie the game at 17. In the ensuing seconds, Panathinaikos stiffed Brose Baskets’ perimeter offense and with free throws by Jasikevicius and Nikos Hatzivrettas to take a 20-17 lead after 10 minutes of play.
The second period commenced with the guests trying a zone defense. Panathinaikos remained scoreless for three minutes, until Hatzivrettas hit a buzzer-beating contested jumper. However it was quite clear that the hosts were struggling. So was Brose Baskets though and as a result they failed to rally back. Midway through the period, both sides combined for an abysmal 4-for-17 from downtown and clearly could not find any rhythm offensively. The guests settled for three-point shots, as the paint was a no-trespassing zone, and went ice-cold for more than five minutes. Eventually, Demond Greene knocked down a triple, good enough to end the drought and provide a much-needed spark. Mike Batiste and Spanoulis failed to connect and soon Ensminger hit a layup on the fast break to make it 24-24. Diamantidis stepped up with a gutsy drive and the free throw that came with it and then captain Fragiskos Alvertis nailed a triple to build a 30-24 lead. Hamann joined the party and hit one from downtown to keep Brose Baskets close on Panathinaikos’s heels. A couple of free-throws by Diamantidis allowed the hosts to breath, yet Okulaja’s jaw-dropping rejection on Hatzivrettas’s layup attempt emphatically proved that Brose Baskets was not willing to go down without a valiant fight and fixed the halftime score at 33-29.
In the second half, Panathinaikos stepped on the gas and Hatzivrettas’s jumper capped a quick 6-0 run. Fenn muscled his way inside to get the scoreboard rolling for the guests, but Diamantidis unlocked the zone defense with a great pass to Spanoulis. Brose Baskets did not give up though. First Suput converted a three-point play and then Hamann fired in a triple to follow Andrija Zizic’s hook shot and trim the lead to 43-38. Reserves Milos Vujanic and Kennedy Winston stepped on the court to break the game open, dominating the battle of the benches and forging a double-digit lead, 50-38. Ensminger responded with 5 points, but Jasikevicius came up big and hit a triple to keep Panathinaikos firmly in charge, 54-45 with one period left.
Early in the fourth quarter, Panathinaikos could not claim a commanding lead, as Suput carried Brose Baskets on his shoulders and kept their chances for a precious away win alive. A long jumper for Okulaja closed the gap to 60-55, heading into the final four minutes of the game, something that awakened the crowd. Nonetheless, the chants inspired neither Spanoulis nor Jasikevicius, while on the other end, nice passing translated into a triple by Garrett that turned it into a 2-point game. A timeout by Zeljko Obradovic was not enough to shift the momentum and thanks to a free throw by Fenn, Brose Baskets pulled within 62-61. With 37.8 seconds remaining, Jasikevicius drew a decisive foul and hit the two free throws. On the following possession, go-to-guy Suput tried unsuccessfully to tie the game and Spanoulis’s subsequent trip to the charity stripe sealed a close win for the Euroleague champions.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007