Panathinaikos almost put both feet in the Top 16 and keeps fighting to win regular season Group B by downing Zalgiris 69-80 in Kaunas, Lithuania on Thursday night. Panathinaikos improved to 5-1 to tie for first place atop the standings and faces a direct opponent in the race to win Group B, Regal FC Barcelona, in Athens, Greece next week. Meanwhile, Zalgiris dropped to 0-6 and visits Montepaschi Siena in Week 7. Sarunas Jasikevicius paced the winners with 15 points in his home country. Mike Batiste added 14 on 7-for-8 two-pointers while Nikola Pekovic had 13 and 8 rebounds for Panathinaikos. Paulius Jankunas led Zalgiris with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Jonas Maciulis and Mantas Kalnietis each had 10 points for the hosts. Jasikevicius shined late in the first quarter to give Zalgiris a 13-22 edge after 10 minutes. Dimitris Diamantidis and Pekovic took over to boost the guests' margin to 26-40 at halftime. Zalgiris did not recover, as Panathinaikos used outstanding defense and three-point accuracy to keep a double-digit lead all the way until the final buzzer.
Batiste dunked it to get Panathinaikos going but Willie Deane answered with a five-meter jumper and fed Zygimantas Janavicius for a fast break layup, good for a 4-2 Zalgiris edge. The Greens did not panic, as Antonis Fotsis silenced the crowd with a dunk while Batiste sank a jumper to put Panathinaikos back ahead, 4-6. Maciulis fed Loren Woods for an easy dunk and banked in a three-pointer, good for a 9-6 Zalgiris edge. Fotsis dunked it again, as coach Zeljko Obradovic tried to change game rhythm by placing Jasikevicius and Diamantidis on court. Batiste hit back-to-back jump hooks to restore a 9-12 Panathinaikos edge. Jankunas scored over Diamantidis but Stratos Perperoglou and Jasikevicius answered with consecutive layups. Zalgiris called timeout at 11-16 but now struggled against the guests' zone defense. Jasikevicius struck from downtown but free throws by Jankunas kept Zalgiris within 13-18. More foul shots by Jasikevicius and a tip-in by Pekovic boosted the guests' lead to 13-22 after 10 minutes.
Panathinaikos kept controlling the boards early in the second quarter, but picked up three quick fouls that did not allow the guests to put much pressure on defense. Dainius Salenga nailed a triple but Jasikevicius took over with a layup in transition. Tadas Klimavicius provided a highlight with a fast break dunk but a jumper by Jasikevicius kept Panathinaikos way ahead, 18-26. Zalgiris called timeout to readjust its defense but Jasikevicius scored off a midcourt steal while Dusan Kecman added a fast break layup to make an 11-point game, 19-30. Deane brose the guests' zone defense with a three-pointer and added free throws to bring Zalgiris within 24-31. Diamantidis nailed a corner triple - his 100th in the competition and Panathinaikos' first in this game - while Fotsis and Pekovic took over with consecutive dunks to break the game open, 24-38. Pekovic capped a 0-9 Panathinaikos run with free throws but Maciulis beat the buzzer with a close jumper for a 26-40 Zalgiris deficit at the break.
Kalnietis tried to ignit the hosts' comeback with a three-pointer but Vassilis Spanoulis answered with his trademark driving layup and soon added a fast break basket for a 15-point Panathinaikos lead, 29-44. Jankunas scored down low, but Zalgiris kept struggling in defense. Fotsis buried an open triple and even when Jankunas kept pacing Zalgiris with free throws, Perperoglou also struck from downtown - exactly from the same spot - to boost the Greens' lead to 32-50. Kalnietis sank a triple that Maciulis followed with a backdoor layup but Batiste took over with a put-back dunk. Woods score inside but Zalgiris only traded baskets now. Panathinaikos improved its defense while Pekovic dunked it again for a 39-54 margin. Kalnietis kept trying with a driving layup while a fast break basket by Janavicius gave the hosts some hope at 43-54. Dusan Sakota nailed a triple from the top of the key and even when Woods shined with an acrobatic tip-in, Diamantidis also struck from downtown for a 47-61 Panathinaikos margin after 30 minutes.
Zalgiris needed a quick comeback to return to the game but Pekovic beat Woods twice in the low post and for a 47-65 Panathinaikos lead. Zalgiris could not find answers in offense while a fast break basket by Drew Nicholas sealed the outcome, 47-67. Zalgiris called timeout and Woods tried to change things with a power layup but Jasikevicius answered from downtown to make it a 21-point game, 49-70, with 7 minutes to go. Batiste nailed a floating jumper that Jankunas erased with a put-back layup. Diamantidis provided a highlight with a no-look assist to Batiste, as Panathinaikos tried to provide some showtime once the outcome was clear. Zalgiris kept trying but everything was said and done already, as the hosts will have to keep looking for their first Euroleague win this season. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos left the court ready to fight Barcelona in a highly-anticipated showdown next week.
Thursday, December 4, 2008