Nemanja Nedovic was back in familiar territory on Thursday night, leading Panathinaikos OPAP Athens into battle against an AX Armani Exchange Milan team he represented in 32 EuroLeague games in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
For a long time, it looked as though Nedovic would end up a loser on his first return to the Mediolanum Forum on Thursday night. Although Panathinaikos scored the opening basket through Howard Sant-Roos, it didn’t take long for Milan to move into a lead which often looked like becoming decisive, especially during a second-quarter surge that saw the home team go in front by 40-25 at one stage and 44-32 at halftime.
Considering the way Panathinaikos had crumbled against LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne just two days earlier, while Milan had cruised to an impressive home win over ALBA Berlin on the same evening, during the interval it was tempting to conclude the same pattern from the first half would be repeated and that Milan would pull away for another comfortable victory.
But Panathinaikos had other ideas. Early in the third quarter, Shelvin Mack, Ioannis Papapetrou and Nedovic all scored to suggest that the game was not over and the Greens continued to fight hard to gradually chip away at the deficit. It was a real team effort on defense as shots were contested, passing lanes blocked and rebounds grabbed to slow Milan down, while at the other end a steady stream of scoring across the team pulled it back to 60-54 – halving the 12-point halftime margin – at the end of the third quarter.
The momentum had turned and Milan could not grab it back. The home team continued to struggle to find good looks and at the other end, Dinos Mitoglou scored three times in less than 2 minutes to tie the game. Milan pulled clear again, 70-64, with a series of free throws, but that was the signal for Nedovic to come to the fore.
The former Milan guard had enjoyed a moderate but far from spectacular game until that moment, but in the final 4 minutes, he was nothing short of outstanding. First, he drove to score in traffic, 70-66, before drawing a foul and making both foul shots, and then, inside the final two minutes, he came off a screen to sink a deep three, 75-73. Papapetrou quickly added another triple to give Panathinaikos its first lead since the first minute, but still the job wasn’t completed as Shavon Shields struck back to give Milan a 77-76 advantage in the final minute.
With another score needed, Nedovic again took matters into his own hands, daring to penetrate the Milan defense before tossing up a perfect alley-oop pass for Georgios Papagiannis to convert. Nedovic then drew another foul and split the free throws and, when Papapetrou grabbed the rebound after Shields missed his next shot, it was all over.
Nedovic finished the night with a joint game-high 16 points - 8 of which came in the last 4:13. He also added 4 assists with just 1 turnover, while his physical effort was reflected by 9 drawn fouls. It was by no means a one-man show because Panathinaikos triumphed through a true team effort with a number of strong individual displays, but Nedovic had more than played his part and his strong finale on his old home floor was arguably the biggest key to deciding the outcome.