Panathinaikos reaches playoffs on festive night
On a night when three-time champion Dimitris Diamantidis was officially named a Euroleague Basketball Legend, Panathinaikos Athens celebrated by clinching a place in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Playoffs for a sixth consecutive season by downing Cedevita Zagreb 76-60 on a festive Friday night in the Greek capital. Panathinaikos learned that it had qualified for the playoffs early in the second quarter, when Anadolu Efes Istanbul lost against Fenerbahce Istanbul. By that time, however, Panathinaikos was already up by 15 points against Cedevita, a lead it never relinquished. The Greens opened the game with 20-5 run that ballooned to 42-19 at halftime. The hosts were up by 29 points in the third quarter before Cedevita put together a 5-25 run to make things little more interesting. But the Panathinaikos lead was never threatened. The victory improved its Group E record to 9-4, which means that Panathinaikos cannot finish worse than third place. It can still clinch second place and home-court advantage in the playoffs with a win next week against already-eliminated Efes, but only if Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar loses at Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul. James Gist paced Panathinaikos with 15 points plus 9 rebounds and Diamantidis had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on his special night. Sasha Pavlovic added 9 points, and Nick Calathes did a little bit of everything with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 6 steals, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots in victory. For Cedevita, Marko Arapovic collected 11 points plus 8 rebounds, while Toni Katic had 9 points in the absence of Nemanja Gordic.
First quarter: Panathinaikos takes control right away
It took teams more than 2 minutes before Ognjen Kuzmic scored the game's first points for Panathinaikos on free throws. The Greens continued with Calathes and Elliot Williams hooking up for an alley-oop dunk before Sasha Pavlovic's put-back on a fastbreak made it 6-0. After a Cedevita timeout, James White opened the visitors' account, but the hosts played tenacious defense, forcing 6 turnovers in the first 5 minutes. Gist and Pavlovic each scored from close range for a 10-2 lead before a Calathes runner meant a double-digit margin within 6 minutes. Karlo Zganec scored a second-chance layup for Cedevita, but Diamantidis dished for a Miroslav Raduljica dunk to spark an 8-0 run during which Antonis Fotsis drove for a layup and James Feldeine went coast-to-coast for a thundering dunk and a 20-5 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
Second quarter: The Greens dominate
Zganec and White opened the second quarter by scoring inside. However, after a Panathinaikos timeout, MarQuez Haynes buried a three-pointer and a baseline jumper to push the lead to 26-9. Miro Bilan made a put-back for Cedevita, and after a pair of foul shots from Diamantidis, Fran Pilepic got a lucky bounce on a jumper to cut the difference to 28-13. Vince Hunter finished an easy dunk for the Greens that Dzanan Musa matched with a dribble-drive layup before Pavlovic nailed a triple to make it 34-15. Arapovic answered with a pair of baskets inside, but Panathinaikos proceeded to score the last 8 points of the quarter. Gist nailed a corner triple, Feldeine made a steal and went the other way for a fastbreak dunk, before Gist beat the halftime buzzer with another three-pointer, making it 42-19 at the break.
Third quarter: Margin reaches 29 points
Kuzmic had a put-back before Luka Babic drove the lane and then added a runner for Cedevita. Calathes hit a triple to make it 47-23, then made a steal and fed Williams for a fastbreak dunk. His next dish was for an alley-oop dunk to Pavlovic at 51-23. After a timeout, Gist scored inside, before White snapped a 9-1 Panathinaikos run with a layup. Katic hit a long jumper for the visitors and Pilepic got another favorable bounce on a three-point attempt, making it 55-32. Diamantidis fed Hunter for a layup before Arapovic had a three-point play and Katic made a runner at 58-37 after three quarters.
Fourth quarter: Cedevita cuts it to single digits
Luka Zoric made a baseline move to open the final quarter, before Katic nailed a jumper then drove for a layup that cut the margin to 58-43. After a Panathinaikos timeout, Cedevita made four defensive stands, and a fastbreak layup from Arapovic cut the difference more before Pilepic's transition triple capped a 5-25 run with the visitors now within 58-49. The hosts snapped their drought with Gist fighting inside for a put-back-plus-foul. Zoric scored inside, but only in between threes from Panathinaikos veterans Antonis Fotsis and Diamantidis, who upped the difference to 67-53. Zoric scored twice more for the visitors, but Gist kept the margin in double figures from the foul line. Fittingly, Diamantidis hit another three-pointer, and soon after was taken out of the game, getting a standing ovation from the fans. Musa scored a layup, but Fotsis nailed another three to round out the scoring on a playoff-clinching night for the Greens.
Friday, April 1, 2016