Panathinaikos remained undefeated through four games with a 76-66 win over AXA FC Barcelona on Thursday night at the Athens Indoor Olympic Hall (OAKA). The defending Euroleague champs won their eighth straight game dating back to last season and held onto a share of first place in Group C alongside Real Madrid. The Greens visit French champion Chorale Roanne next week. Meanwhile Barca fell to 2-2 and hosts archrival Madrid next week. Dimitrios Diamantidis led Panathinaikos with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots. The game was close throughout the first half, with Michel Morandais leading the visitors to a 36-37 halftime lead. However Sarunas Jasikevicius took control in the third period, getting things going with 5 early points to give his team the lead for good and then inspiring his teammates to a 57-46 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Former Panathinaikos star Jaka Lakovic made himself at home down the stretch with 8 fourth-quarter points to carry the visitors back, but Kostas Tsartsaris had the final say with clutch baskets in the closing minutes to seal the Green win. Jasikevicius finished with 13 points and 4 assists for the winners, while Tsartsaris added 11 and Mike Batiste had 9 points and 9 rebounds. Mario Kasun led Barcelona with 16 points, Morandais added 14 and Lakovic 13.
Before a roaring crowd, Panathinaikos got on the scoreboard first thanks to Batiste. Lakovic unleashed a wild triple against his former team to put Barcelona in front, only to be copied by Demos Dikoudis, who capitalized on Diamantidis’s assist. Crisp passing led to a two-handed dunk by Kasun and then Lakovic, determined to silence the crowd, scored on a gutsy drive against Diamantidis to make it 6-7. On the other end, Diamantidis replied with 5 consecutive points to trigger an 8-0 run that forced Barcelona head coach Dusko Ivanovic to call a timeout. Alex Acker ended the dry spell and few possessions later Jordi Trias finished on the break to trim the lead to 14-11. Once again Diamantidis drilled one from downtown to give the hosts some breathing room. However Pepe Sanchez helped the visitors stay close before Vassilis Spanoulis stepped up with a highlight drive to give Panathinaikos a 19-15 gap after 10 minutes of play.
Barcelona came out for the second period with Morandais on fire. The swingman knocked down a jumper and then grabbed an offensive rebound, scored a basket and hit the resulting free throw to keep the guests afloat. Spanoulis carried Panathinaikos on his shoulders and contributed a long jumper and an assist to Andrija Zizic, which gave the Greens a 28-24 edge. However with Barcelona dominating the boards and Acker and Morandais gunning without remorse, soon the guests tied the game through Fran Vasquez. Panathinaikos responded with back-to-back triples behind captain Fragiskos Alvertis and Diamantidis, good for a 36-32 lead with two minutes left. Instead of folding, Barcelona picked up its defensive intensity and forced Panathinaikos to struggle offensively – committing turnovers and making bad decisions – and soon a three-point bomb by Gianluca Basile gave the visitors a morale-boosting 36-37 cushion at halftime.
After a silent first half, Jasikevicius came up big with 5 points to make it 41-37 early in the third period. Morandais answered back with another contested shot from beyond the arc, but Kennedy Winston followed with a flying drive to the basket. Then, for a while, the fans were treated with a barrage of players stripping their opponents and then turning the ball over. That was until Sanchez committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Diamantidis, who translated it into 2 points. On the resulting possession, Jacikevicius hit a wild triple to give Panathinaikos a 49-40 advantage. Kasun picked up the scoring slack for the guests with power moves in the post, yet neither the three-point shooting extravaganza nor Jacikevicius’s third period heroics were over. With the Greens up 8 and the shot-clock ticking down, Diamantidis beat the buzzer and all odds to score a hopeless long-range out-of-balance jumper from the corner that made it 57-46 at the end of the period.
Barcelona tried to attack the paint and Kasun did not disappoint as he muscled his way inside on consecutive possessions. Dikoudis tried to unlock the Panathinaikos offense, yet his shot was swatted away by Ersan Ilyasova, while on the other end, Acker scored a high-flying two-handed lay-up. With 4:20 minutes left and the score 60-56, Spanoulis slashed to the basket and provided a much-needed spark for the hosts. Still, Barcelona was not willing to bow to its opponents and Lakovic kept the guests close. Tsartsaris dunked, drew a foul and made the free throw to boost the margin to 65-58 with three minutes to go. After a free throw by Ilyasova, Tsartsaris shined once again only to be bettered by Lakovic, who quickly replied from downtown to keep Barcelona’s chances intact. After a Panathinaikos timeout, Jasikevicius drove and fed Batiste for a reverse lay-up and a 69-62 lead that brought the crowd to its feet. Lakovic did not surrender, yet Spanoulis lobbed to Batiste for a powerful dunk and then Tsartsaris – clearly the man of the final period – knocked down a late triple that forced the visitors to finally throw in the towel.
Thursday, November 15, 2007