The final 15-point margin did not do justice to the exciting basketball Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and FC Bayern Munich showcased at OAKA on Wednesday night. Panathinaikos held a 17-point lead with not even 6 minutes played, but Bayern rallied and was in front before halftime. The visitors were hot from long range, having hit 15 for the night, but missed their final 6 three-point attempts and Panathinaikos used its offensive rebounds to recover before riding a 21-2 run to regain control.
For the Greens, there were highs and lows. It is surely worrisome that they keep struggling to defend three-point shots, so much so that the visiting team, which arrived on a four-game losing streak, needed just two quarters to turn a 17-point deficit into a 9-point lead. However, Coach Rick Pitino was looking at the glass half-full: "Any time you [allow] 50% from the three-point line you are going to lose the game. But our rebounding was so spectacular, our defense in the fourth quarter, holding them to 8 points, was so spectacular," the Panathinaikos coach said.
Panathinaikos was dominant on the glass. The Greens pulled down 43 rebounds, including 20 on offense, almost as many as Bayern had total for the night – 23. The hosts were so dominant that it was offensive rebounding that got Panathinaikos out of a deficit against a team that seemed unstoppable having shot 6 for 6 from three-point land to open the third quarter.
DeShaun Thomas was a force, seemingly getting every loose ball, even when the odds of grabbing the basketball were far below 50%. He willed Panathinaikos back into the game and literally put it back into the lead.
And then, there was Georgios Papagiannis, easy to overlook in the final stat sheet with his 8 points and 5 rebounds. But he also had 4 blocks, and when he was on the floor, Panathinaikos shined: "The correlation, Papagiannis played the first quarter and played the last quarter," Pitino pointed out.
The big man, who Pitino calls PG, started the game in dominant fashion with 2 blocks and a pair of monster dunks, fueling Panathinaikos's 19-2 run to open the game, but due to 2 personal fouls, Pitino took him out at that point. PG returned to start the third quarter, but committed his third foul and was on the bench until 8:20 to go in the fourth, with Bayern still in front 76-77. After Papagiannis stepped back on the court, Panathinaikos went on a 13-0 run, not allowing another basket for 6 minutes.
"He was able to play Monroe, he did brilliant things out there. Took the ball off the rim in a key moment, had a key rebound in the game, kept the ball live on the offensive glass and tipped it back to players. Just the best game he had here, and I hope it now propels him to a new level," Pitino raved about Papagiannis.
Panathinaikos will need more of that first and last quarter, and a lot less of the middle two quarters in the remainder of the season. The more the Greens repeat their stifling fourth-quarter defense, the better chances they will have to find themselves playing for all the marbles.