Big nights from Dimitrios Diamantidis and Nikos Chatzivrettas saw Panathinaikos remain undefeated in Group B with an 87-72 over Unicaja Malaga Thursday night at the OAKA Olympic Arena in Athens, Greece. Panathinaikos improved to 5-0, opening up a two-game lead over three teams tied for second place in the group. Unicaja, which was the only team to defeat the Greens last year during the regular season, dropped to 1-4, sharing last place with Union Olimpija. Diamantidis had 20 points, 5 assists and 7 steals, while Chatzivrettas scored a game-high 21 for the home team. Three more players scored 9 each for Panathinaikos, which also welcomed Milos Vujanic to the court for the first time after a lengthy injury. Daniel Santiago carried Unicaja with 19 points and 10 fouls drawn. Carlos Jimenez added 15 and Carlos Cabezas came off the bench for 11 for Unicaja, which turned the ball over 21 times.
Diamantidis started with a triple from the corner and Kostas Tsartsaris added a hook shot, but both times Malaga reacted with good transition game and baskets coming from Jimenez and Berni Rodriguez. Santiago put Unicaja ahead at 5-7, but Panathinaikos found another open three pointer, this time from Chatzivrettas at the opposite corner. Jiri Welsch finished a basket-plus-foul, however Diamantidis’s second triple helped the Greens regain the lead – the fifth lead-change in less than two minutes. Chatzivrettas scored in the open court and drew a foul to make it 14-11. Panathinaikos kept on finding easy baskets, with Tsartsaris and Robertas Javtokas making it 18-12. Welsch answered back, but Javtokas, Mike Batiste and Diamantidis led the hosts to a double-digits difference for the first time at 24-14. Jimenez nailed a jumper, but Panathinaikos continued to run-and-gun; Becirovic and Diamantidis made it 28-16, before Jimenez connected from behind the arc to close the first quarter at 28-19.
Tsartsaris dunked in traffic and Diamantidis popped in another triple to make the score 33-19. Jimenez reacted again for the visitors and Santiago gave Unicaja hope from the paint with a basket-plus-foul. When Jimenez scored another layup, the guests had cut the deficit to 36-26. Kostas Vassiliadis punished the hosts’ lazy perimeter defense with a triple from the corner to make it 37-29 as Unicaja controlled the tempo. Marcus Brown chipped in a pair of free throws to extend the run to 10-2. Both teams fed the ball inside, with Batiste and Santiago bearing responsibility for Panathinaikos and Unicaja respectively, as the score now stood at 41-35. Cabezas’s free throws helped the visitors get within 41-39. Dejan Tomasevic answered with two baskets to give the Greens some breathing room. Dimos Dikoudis finished the hosts’ critical 6-point run to make it 47-39 as the two teams went to the lockers for halftime.
Chatzivrettas and Santiago exchanged jumpers as the game’s tempo seemed to slow down after two high-scoring quarters. The difference balanced between 8 and 10 points in the next minutes as the two teams made some bad decisions offensively. Unicaja used an excellent passing game to score outside with Jimenez and inside with Santiago to get back to 53-49. However, Dikoudis and Tomasevic answered back in the paint to rebuild an 8-point difference for the hosts. Welsch and Sanchez drove to the basket, but Tsartsaris did the same at 60-53. Tsartsaris dished consecutive assists to Batiste and Chatzivrettas to allow Panathinaikos to rally to a 10-point lead. Chatzivrettas scored again and Tsartsaris made one from the line to make it 67-54 at the end of the third period.
Brown connected for the first time to cut it to 67-57. Panathinakos, though, remained in charge of the rhythm. Chatzivrettas continued to show his great form with a good fast break layup at 71-59. Unicaja switched to a zone defense and Cabezas scored 5 in a row to bring Unicaja as close as 71-64 with seven minutes to play. Panathinaikos missed two open opportunities and Welsch scored in the paint to make it a 5-point game. But Ramunas Siskauskas broke the scoring silence for the Greens. Free throws from Diamantidis and Chatzivrettas gave Panathinaikos the points it needed for a 77-68 lead. Diamantidis stole the ball and Siskauskas nailed a triple to end the visitors' hopes as Panathinaikos sailed to an 87-72 win.
Thursday, November 23, 2006