| In its first Euroleague home game as defending champ, Panathinaikos treated its fans in Athens to a basketball recital on Thursday, blowing out Khimki Moscow Region 101-66 to seize first place in Group D. After two weeks, Panathinaikos is 2-0 and alone atop the group, while Khimki fell to 1-1 - and fell hard. The Greens jumped all over the visitors, who were playing their club's first Euroleague road game, and didn't let up much the rest of the way, going over the 100-point mark in the last minute on a free throw by youngster Giorgos Bogris. Long before that, the superstar outside-inside duo of Dimitris Diamantidis and Nikola Pekoic had taken care of business for the Greens. Diamantidis finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Pekovic had 20 points, Vassilis Spanoulis 12 and another youngster, Giorgi Shermadini, 10. Altogether, the Greens shot 64% (31 of 48) on two-pointers and dished out 24 assists to just 3 for Khimki. The visitors put only one scorer in double figures, Keith Langford with 14 points, as they failed to muster any challenge after the first few minutes.
Both teams sent the ball inside early, with Khimki getting ahead on a hook shot and free throw from Robertas Javtokas. Antonis Fotsis made it 3-3 from the corner for Panathinaikos before Kelly McCarty and Spanoulis traded lane jumpers. Panathinaikos took it's first lead on a Fotsis tip-in and kept charging with a dunk by Pekovic and a fastbreak triple from Drew Nicholas at 12-7. Langford answered for Khimki, but Diamantidis got behind him for a layup-plus-free throw to make it 15-9. Then Spanoulis executed his own three-point play and Nicholas drained a jumper to push the difference into doube digits at 20-9. The Panathinaikos defense covered everything, forcing a steal and a three-point violation on Khimki. The Panathinaikos lead hit 22-9 before Langford's triple and a layup by Raul Lopez preceded a timeout by the visitors at 22-14. The Greens went to the line to finish the half strong, however, as a Pekovic layup closed an 6-0 run with a 28-14 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
Vitaly Fridzon downed a triple and Fedor Dmitriev a running hook as Khimki's bench provided some spark early in the second quarter. Diamantidis stopped that trend, however, with an open triple at 35-19. As Khimki struggled to score, newly-signed veteran Jurica Golemac fed Pekovic for a dunk and buried his own triple as the Panathinaikos lead continued to climb. Next, the Greens fed Shermadini for a layup before Diamantidis took off with a steal for his own for a high lead of 44-21. Khimki big men Dmitriev and Mozgov got to the line for 3 points, but Panathinaikos was out-pacing the guests to the basket time and again. Pekovic finished with the second quarter's last 3 points as the Greens took a seemingly insurmountable 51-25 lead into the half.
The teams traded points early in the third quarter, which was an improvement for Khimki, but got the guests no closer than 57-32 on a triple by McCarty. Even when Lopez spectacularly split a trap to hit a soft layup, it was only to watch Stratos Perperoglou better him with an equally soft triple at 62-34. Khimki kept trying, with a reverse by Langford, a jumper by McCarty and a dunk by Javtokas. Just as rhythmically, however, the Greens saw Pekovic hit a sweet one-hander and Nicholas an unchallenged layup to keep the difference high as 68-44. Like that it went - Javtokas with a hook, but Shermadini with a tip-in, Milenko Tepic with a layup, Lopez with a triple - until Panathinaikos cruised into the fourth quarter looking just as dominant, 72-50.
The Panathinaikos clinic went into overdrive in the final quarter. Diamantidis started it with a triple, fed Shermadini for the second of his consecutive layups, then stole and finished the break himself to end all doubt about any Khimki comebacks. It was 81-50, the Panathinaikos diehards were raising the roof again at OAKA. It was only a question of time and how much Panathinaikos would push now. And push the Greens did, playing aggressive defense and attacking the rim without pause until young Bogris gave the fans one last cause for an ovation, his game-ending free throws in the final minute to reach the century mark. The message at the end was clear: first place in Group D belongs to the Greens until some other team rises up very high to take it away.
Thursday, October 29, 2009