In a thriller that ultimately did not affect the group standings, Panathinaikos lost all of a 22-point second-half lead before hanging on to beat visiting Unicaja 103-95 in overtime on Wednesday in Athens. Panathinaikos finished first in Group G at 5-1 with the victory, but would have done so anyway after its co-leader before Thursday, Partizan, lost on the road at Lottomatica Roma. Already-eliminated Unicaja finished 2-4 and third in the group, but almost went out in a blaze of glory after sending the game to overtime with 3 three-pointers in the last minute of regulation time. Drew Nicholas matched those 3 triples in the extra 5 minutes, however, to avoid disappointment for Panathinaikos. Mike Batiste led the winners with 22 points and 9 rebounds. Drew finished with 15, Nikola Pekovic 13 in 15 minutes, Stratos Perperoglou and Sarunas Jasikevicius 12 each. Unicaja got 21 points from Jiri Welsch, while bench players German Gabriel, Joseph Gomis and Berni Rodriguez had 17, 16 and 13, respectively, and Carlos Jimenez added 10.
Unicaja rushed ahead 0-3 on a three-pointer by Jimenez, who was very energetic in the defensive end, too. Pekovic muscled his way to the basket and a few possessions later Perperoglou used a spin move to put the hosts ahead 4-3. Unicaja was unable to find a rhythm offensively, with its players shooting 2 for 9 while Panathinaikos built a 9-5 lead on a basket by Batiste. Welsch came off the bench to answer back for the guests, but Batiste's matched him with jumper. Neither could Panathinaikos get far ahead, however, because Unicaja was playing its trademark passionate defense. When Marcus Haislip and Boniface Ndong made free throws, it was 13-13. Kostas Tsartsaris broke the tie with a jumper before Jasikevicious followed with another basket, but Haislip knocked down a triple to keep the guests close, 17-16. However, Nikos Hatzivrettas scored on an off-balanced shot before Vassilis Spanoulis stole and bolted for a fastbreak layup to give Panathinaikos a 21-16 lead after 10 minutes.
Pekovic converted a three-point play to open the second quarter and Jasikevicius connected from beyond the arc to widen the gap to 27-16. Rodriguez stepped up with a triple of his own for Unicaja, but Jasikevicius fed Pekovic for a two-handed monster dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. Batiste got an offensive rebound and scored an easy basket, good for the first double-digit advantage, 31-21. Unicaja was giving in, however. Welsch loaded his pistol with a three-point strike and Gomis drove to the basket to cut the lead to 31-26. Out of a Panathinaikos timeout, the same duo, Welsch and Gomis, carried Unicaja within 32-30. Diamantidis gave the hosts a 36-30 lead before Welsch buried another triple to silence the crowd. Perperoglou responded from the corner, but Welsch kept scoring, now from the free-throw line. Panathinaikos finished the half strong as could be, though, as Pekovic scored a basket and the free throw that came with it to push the edge to 44-35. Then, Diamantidis stripped Rodriguez and Batiste exploded with back-to-back dunks to cap an imposing 12-2 run that fixed the halftime score at 48-35.
Rodriguez opened the second half with a layup, but Perperoglou upped the ante with a triple. Rodriguez came up big once again, punishing Panathinaikos, however Batiste and Antonis Fotsis triggered an 11-0 spurt that pushed the margin to a whopping 62-40. Despite a three-pointer by Jimenez, it was clear that the hosts were now the best team on both ends of the court. Batiste kept wreaking havoc in the paint and hit a free throw make it 65-45. Then, however, Panathinaikos got complacent and Unicaja, with Gabriel picking up the scoring slack, managed to claw its way back. With the score at 65-54, Haislip emphatically rejected Pekovic and then Jon Cortaberria knocked down a triple to trim the lead to single digits. Panathinaikos went scoreless for more than 4 minutes, whereas Haislip assisted Jimenez to cap an unexpected yet impressive 0-14 run that made it a new game at 66-59 after 30 minutes.
Unicaja came out in the final quarter determined to complete its stunning comeback. Gomis and Gabriel each made three-pointers and Thomas Kelati scored on a wild reverse layup to slice the margin to 70-67. When Panathinaikos missed again, Gomis made it a one-point game, 70-69. After a Panathinaikos timeout, Perperoglou stole and fed Fotsis for a three-point play that sent the OAKA noise level off the meter. Then, with Perperoglou assisting again, Batiste got a basket-plus-free throw that made it 76-69. Panathinaikos was shooting a dreadful 3 –for- 19 from the three-point line until Diamantidis nailed a triple to keep Unicaja at distance, 79-72, with 3 minutes remaining. Could the guests bounce back? Though scoreless himself, Omar Cook certainly thought so, as he dished to Welsch for an easy layup and Gabriel for another triple that closed the gap to 80-77. Diamantidis scored on a drive and then stripped Gomis, but there was no conversion on the fastbreak as Welsch blocked a layup try by Spanoulis from behind. What followed in the waning minutes was Euroleague basketball at its best. First Rodriguez swished a big triple and then hot-handed Gabriel copied him to put Unicaja in front, 82-83. With 29 seconds left, Nicholas hit the long jumper to make it 84-83, only to be bettered by Welsch's triple. Diamantidis drove to the basket and scored a gutsy game-tying basket with 5:6 seconds left. Gomis tried to win it, but his shot went off the rim and the teams proceeded to overtime tied 86-86.
Nicholas fired in a triple to get the scoreboard rolling in overtime and then, after another Diamantidis steal, finished a fastbreak to establish a five-point lead, 91-86, for the Greens. Soon, Nicholas was double-trouble for Unicaja, unleashing a pair of wild three-pointers to give Panathinaikos a 99-93 lead. Contaberria's dunk in the next possession meant that Malaga had 62 seconds to try to stun the hosts again. However, Batiste did not falter from the free throw line and on the other end blocked Contaberria to seal the outcome of a great match in favor of Panathinaikos.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009