| Panathinaikos turned around the standings in Group B on Thursday by ending Montepaschi Siena's undefeated season to this point with a down-to-the-wire 81-76 home victory at OAKA in Athens, Greece. The victory meant that Panathinaikos and Montepaschi, with 3-1 records, are both tied for first place now with Regal F.C. Barcelona. Down by a point with under 2 minutes to play after a a back-and-forth game, the Greens relied on good-as-gold Sarunas Jasikevicius and Dimitris Diamantidis for a pair of go-ahead layups before finishing the game on defense and at the foul line. Antonis Fotsis and Nikola Pekovic paced the winners with 14 points each, while Diamantidis had 11, Jasikevicius and Vassilis Spanoulis 10 each. Most important was how Panathinaikos won the rebounding war 37 to 23 with eight different players grabbing 3 boards or more. Montepaschi got 22 ponts from Ksistof Lavrinovic, 17 from Romain Sato, 14 from Henry Domercant and 10 from Rimantas Kaukenas. A three-pointer by Sato had the guests up 73-74 in the next-to-last minute, but only a short shot by Kaukenas fell after that as the Panathinaikos put the wraps on Terrell McIntyre, who was held to 3 points, his Euroleague career low.
The game commenced with Sarunas Jasikevicius penetrating to get the scoreboard rolling, only to be bettered by Terrell McIntyre, who knocked down a three-pointer for a 2-3 Siena lead. Panathinaikos replied with an 8-0 blast as Kostas Tsartaris contributed 5 points, forcing Siena head coach Simone Pianigiani to call timeout. The visitors' Lithuanian tandem of Kaukenas and Lavrinovic scored on layups to get Siena within 10-7. Spanoulis entered the court for the first time this Euroleague season and soon found Mike Batiste for a basket and the free throw that came with it to build a 15-7 lead. Panathinaikos was now anchoring its offense in the paint and, as a result, Pekovic picked up the scoring slack and forged a double-digit lead, 19-9. The hosts were dominating the battle of the boards, having grabbed 10 compared to Siena's single one until then. They were also a perfect 7-for-7 on two-point shots until then. Pekovic kept wreaking havoc in the paint, so it wasn't long before the lead soared to 22-11. Still, Siena was not ready to surrender and Domercant loaded his pistol to fire in a triple that cut the difference to 22-14 after one quarter.
Domercant blasted another three-pointer to open the second quarter and Kaukenas followed with a layup to close the gap even more, 22-19. However, Panathinaikos pulled a 9-0 run from its sleeve to once again break the game open at 31-19. The fans were on their feet by then, but Domercant gave them more to consider: he first unleashed a triple and then found Lavrinovic on the arc to copy him and keep Siena on the hosts' heels, 33-27. Pekovic worked his way in the paint to calm Panathinaikos, but the hot-handed Lavrinovic was on fire and drilled another triple to make it 37-33. Panathinaikos now capitalized on Batiste's energetic play within the paint to open up the lead again, 41-33, but Lavrinovic -who else?- was ready with his third triple to keep Siena close. Before the half could end, he was joined from downtown by Sato, whose buzzer-beating three-point shot fixed the halftime score at 45-42.
The second half commenced with both teams in low gear offensively, as they remained without a basket for more than 3 minutes. Eventually, Shaun Stonerook broke the ice with a triple - Siena's 10th in 24 minutes - to pull the visitors within 46-45. Then, as Batiste missed a layup, Benjamin Eze scored on a great pass from McIntyre pass to put Siena in front for the first time all game. The tide was now on the guests' side, as Sato capped a 3-12 run that silenced the crowd and boosted Siena to a 46-51 advantage. Panathinaikos had its back on the wall, having scored only one basket - a triple by Spanoulis - in the first 8 minutes of the third quarter. On the other end, Lavrinovic was scoring almost at will against the Greens, so Siena kept a 53-55 lead. Out of nowhere, however, Drew Nicholas connected on a three-pointer to put Panathinaikos on the driver's seat again, 56-55, after 30 minutes.
Fotsis came up huge, with 2 triples among 8 points, to launch the fourth quarter. With that, Panathinaikos had established another, perhaps unexpected double-digit lead, 65-55, but failed to hang onto it. The "usual suspects" among the visitors, Sato and Lavrinovic, combined for 10 points in response, taking advantage of 3 Panathinaikos turnovers in 2 minutes, to let Siena tie 65-65. With 4:56 remaining, Diamantidis nailed an amazing triple and then Jasikevicius drove to the basket to sandwich a shot good for a three-point play by Stonerook, keeping Panathinaikos in front, 70-68. Siena did not remain in catch-up mode for too long, though, thanks to a basket, a free throw and a triple by Sato that vaulted the guests into the lead again, 73-74 with 2:04 left to play. Big-time players Jasikevicius and Diamantidis down the stretch to give the Greens a vital 79-76 lead, as in the waning seconds Stonerook missed his try to tie the game with the triple. Kaukenas was forced to send Spanoulis to the foul line. The latter hit both free throws to seal the outcome of the game in favour of the hosts who remained undefeated at home.
Thursday, November 13, 2008