A three-quarter thriller ended up belonging solely to the visitors as Panathinaikos broke Unicaja's 23-game Euroleague home win streak with a 69-81 victory in Malaga, Spain on Wednesday that was good for first place in Group G. Panathinaikos raised its record to 2-0 in the group, while Unicaja joined Partizan in second place at 1-1. A wild start featured Panathinaikos making a 0-11 first-quarter run immediately followed by Unicaja's 13-0 response. The ultra-exciting middle quarters produced 13 lead changes and 8 ties. The last lead change, however, came on a triple by Drew Nicholas to open the fourth quarter, and that soon turned into a 2-15 run as the Panathinaikos defense denied Unicaja any decent shots and any chance to rally the home crowd. Nicholas finished with 19 points for the winners, followed closely by Sarunas Jasikevicius with 18. Nikola Pekovic added 15 points and 7 rebounds, Dmitris Diamantidis 10 points and Vassilis Spanoulis 9 plus 7 assists. Unicaja, which enjoyed 8 three-pointers from six different players before the half, made only a couple more after it while settling for only 9 assists. Marcus Haislip led the hosts with 14 points while Berni Rodriguez had 12, Omar Cook 11 and Thomas Kelati 10. Unicaja hadn't lost at home in Euroleague play since doing so to Maccabi by 67-83 on December 16, 2006.
Carlos Cabezas riled up the home crowd by beating the shot clock with a triple on the game's first possession, but Pekovic and Diamantidis soon made it to the rim for Panathinaikos to take a 3-4 lead. Nicholas found Pekovic for a dunk alone and Panathinaikos took its third steal already before Diamantidis drove to make it 3-8. The visitors' next pick-'n'-roll, Diamantidis to Pekovic, was worth a basked and free throw, making it an 0-11 run for Panathinaikos. The run ended with a second triple by Cabezas, but Nicholas answered with a two-point jumper. Haislip became Unicaja's second scorer with an acrobatic layup, also on the shot-clock buzzer, and Carlos Jimenez the third with a fastbreak triple from the corner to make it 11-13. Next, it was Haislip raising a shot from downtown, and Unicaja had itself a new lead, 14-13. By the time Rodriguez landed Unicaja's fifth triple from the corner, the crowd was revived and the hosts were up 17-13. Rodriguez would get another layup to cap a 13-0 run by Unicaja before Nicholas stopped the bleeding for Panathinaikos for a 19-15 scoreboard to close the first quarter.
To open the second, Panathinaikos got a big three-pointer, its first, from Dusan Kecman. After Jiri Welsch and Mike Batiste traded baskets, Nicholas forged a 21-21 tie at the foul line. Cook answered with a big triple, but on the next inbounds play, Spanoulis created a new tie from downtown, 24-24. Panathinaikos re-took the lead on a screen-and-roll dunk from Jasikevicius to Batiste, but Cook was having none of it and blasted another three-pointer. Jasikevicius popped a jumper off a screen that Boniface Ndong matched by rolling to the basket as the lead kept changing hands. It did so some more with Spanoulis driving for a layup and Jiri Welsch hitting 2 of 2 free throws. Panathinaikos blinked first, missing an alley-oop dunk pass that Cook punished by raising up for his third triple in 3 minutes to make it 34-30. Spanoulis and Batiste got 3 points back at the foul line, and Haislip had a basket in between them, but Jasikevicius soon blasted from the corner to tie 36-36. Within seconds, however, Kelati answered with the same shot and Jimenez added a free throw to put Unicaja up 40-36. Jasikevicius merely dropped a triple from the other corner, and then Diamantidis lined up high for a huge go-ahead three-pointer at 40-42 for Panathinaikos. Kelati hit 3 of 3 free throws for another lead change, that Jasikevicius turned around again with a short jumper, but Kelati got back to the line for the final word of the first half, Unicaja 45-44.
Kelati scored on an inbound play to start the second half, but missed the accompanying foul shot. Jasikevicius made sure of his three-point lane jumper-plus-free throw, however, forging a new tie, 47-47. Ndong went high for a go-ahead bank shot, but Jasikevicius fed Pekovic for a dunk and then the Panathinaikos center scored again to regain the lead, 49-51. The Panathinaikos defense had Unicaja forcing late shots, while Spanoulis added an easy basket to the visitors' lead. Unicaja got Robert Archibald to the foul line, where he made 2 of 2. A couple of tough defensive minutes ended with Diamantidis beating the shot-clock from way downtown and lifting the lead to 51-56. Unicaja used its defense now - back-to-back blocks by Haislip and Archibald - to ignite its offense, a much-needed basket by the former. Next, Haislip got the foul line and made 3 of 4 shots to tie, 56-56. Cook did the take-over honors with a huge steal and coast-to-coast layup for a new Unicaja lead, 58-56, forcing a Panathinaikos timeout. After Unicaja stole but turned the ball over, Nicholas made the hosts pay with a huge triple for another lead change. Sure enough, with the shot clock about to stop, Rodriguez rained his own shot from the arc, and Unicaja was up 61-59. Pekovic got to the line for a quiet end to a wild quarter, hitting 2 of 2 free throws for a 61-61 tie - the game's 10th - after 30 minutes.
Nicholas completed the latest Panathinaikos resurgence with a triple to open the final quarter at 61-64, the game's 16th lead change. Several misses by Unicaja followed before Spanoulis connected with Pekovic for a layup. Unicaja's drought reached 4 minutes and Archibald fouled out before Jasikevicius nailed a triple alone to make it 61-69 for Panathinaikos. Haislip finally restarted Unicaja's score from the foul line, but Nicholas made a great tip-in to answer for Panathinaikos. A new scoring lull and a Unicaja timeout ended with another steal for Panathinaikos and Batiste dunking on the break. Great ball movement soon found Nicholas alone on the perimeter, who buried the shot and with it much of Unicaja's hope as the score hit 63-76 with 2:30 left to play. Cabezas free throws and Rodriguez layups gave Unicaja the next 6 points, but just in case more points are needed later in the Top 16, Nicholas capped his best Euroleague performance in a Panathinaikos uniform with a game-ending triple to send the Greens home happy.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009