It was a momentous occasion in the Greek capital on Friday night as Panathinaikos OPAP Athens played its 500th Turkish Airlines EuroLeague game of the century. Panathinaikos is the fifth team to achieve that milestone, and with a 91-72 triumph over the visiting Valencia Basket, the six-time EuroLeague champions have 301 wins, the fourth-highest total of any.
Even better, Panathinaikos achieved its latest victory in a way that would have made older generations of the Greens' players and fans proud. Head coach Oded Kattash's men registered their third straight home win by at least 16 points, and did so by playing stellar defense and dominating under the baskets.
"They played an unbelievable game", Valencia coach Jaume Ponsarnau said, praising the Panathinaikos' players performance.
"For us, it all started on defense," Kattash pointed out. "Once we got some stops, we controlled the rebounds. It helped us also to get easy points on the break. But it also gave us confidence, which we got through defense."
Panathinaikos never trailed, had its first double-digit lead in the first quarter, and opened a 16-point margin before halftime. Valencia never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
Panathinaikos dominated in the frontcourt especially. Aaron White, Konstantinos Mitoglou and Georgios Papagiannis combined for 31 points and 21 rebounds, while Zach Auguste and Ben Bentil chipped in with 8 and 7 points, respectively.
That front line also helped hold the visitors to just 43.3% two-point shooting and won the rebounding battle 39-27. Moreover, despite Panathinaikos making just 6 of 21 three-pointers, at no point in the game did it feel as though that 28.6% accuracy from the arc could hurt the hosts.
"Most of the time [on our shots], we had good situations for offensive rebounds, creating that spacing and mismatches against the defense," Kattash said of his team's 13 offensive boards. "Offensive rebounds are a big part of our game. A lot of our misses we got back with offensive rebounds and got second chances."
What pleased Kattash most was that his team built on its second-half performance in Madrid two days earlier, when despite being down 22 points at halftime, the Greens held Real to just 27 in the third and fourth quarters.
With Papagiannis and Ioannis Papapetrou returning to lineup on Friday, the Greens held an opponent below 77 points for the fourth time in the last five games. And even though the Greens had previously lost some ground in the playoff race, with the team clicking in such way, no opponent will be happy to face them rest of the way.