Having lost three games in a row, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens faced its Round 29 home date against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv strongly in need of revival. In their previous encounter, the Greek champions lost 89-81 in Tel Aviv by allowing 48 points to Maccabi's backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin, who scored 22 of those, as well as Elijah Bryant, Chris Jones and Tyler Dorsey.
Eager to avoid repeating that mistake, Panathinaikos head coach Oded Kattash emphasize before the game how important it was to slow down Maccabi's backcourt. His plan worked fine as the Greens downed the Yellows 81-63 thanks to a solid defensive display.
"I think we won the game defensively," Katash said afterward. "On the set game, we did a good job. Our big guys played amazing against their guards on switching defenses, according to our game plan. As long as we didn't turn the ball over and we played slow offensively, we could control them. I really like how the guys reacted to the game plan. I'm very proud of the players."
Panathinaikos's defensive effort reduced the offensive production of its opponent's backcourt as much as it was needed, sticking to the game plan. Even though Wilbekin scored 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting, the trio of Elijah Bryant, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Jones were limited to a combined 5-for-16 accuracy on two-pointers (31%) and 2-for-9 on threes (33%).
That defense was a key foundation, too, for Panathinaikos building a 25-7 lead to open the game while preventing Maccabi from scoring a three-pointer for more than 12 minutes. This was not the definitive blow for the visitors, though, as Maccabi's 2-15 run late in the third quarter brought it back into the game at 58-55.
Something else was needed, and Ioannis Papapetrou provided it. The Greek forward scored half of his game-high 20 points in the last period, becoming the go-to-guy when the outcome was on the line. Despite missing the last two games among six of the previous nine, Papapetrou was strong enough at the end of the game to score 8 points in a row to seal the victory.
"I love basketball, I love to play basketball. It was a hard period for me, obviously, with COVID and my injury before that," he said after the game. "This past month, I haven't been playing and enjoying and doing what I love. But now I'm back. I feel like I still have to build up my physique and my readiness; I'm not 100%. But I feel good to be back."
Talking about his team's reaction in the last period, in which Panathinaikos outscored Maccabi 23-8, Papapetrou didn't have any doubt:
"We had to stay composed for 40 minutes. It's very tough to be ready and have good chemistry with the new additions, the team changes. Obviously, Nedovic is out and he's a big part of the team. But I think we need to execute and stay composed for 40 minutes. We tried to do that, and we came out with the win."