With a three-point shooting show that establishes major leads, Panathinaikos became the last team to clinch a Euroleague Final Four berth by beating Efes Pilsen 84-76 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,000 in Athens, Greece on Thursday night in the third and last game of their quarterfinals playoff. Panathinaikos had a heavy homecourt avdantage as one of the biggest crowds ever in European basketball history, 18,000 fans, filled sold-out OAKA Olympic Stadium. Panathinaikos won the best-of-three series 2-1 and advances to face defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals on Friday, May 6 in Moscow. With the packed arena cheering each one, the Greens made 12 of 16 triples over 25 minutes starting midway through the first quarter to take a 25-point lead near the end of the third. Efes, however, rallied back to within 76-71 with just over a minute left before Panathinaikos held on for the victory. Four different Panathinaikos drilled 2 or more triples, including Jaka Lakovic, who led the winners with 22 points, and scored 6 in the final 90 seconds to hold off Efes. Ibrahim Kutluay added 15 and Fragiskos Alvertis 11 for Panathinaikos. Henry Domercant led Efes Pilsen with 17 points, Dusan Kecman added 15 and Will Solomon had 12 for the guests.
Kuqo scored in the paint for Efes to open the scoring, and that sent the visitors on a good start. He added a jump hook, and then Goran Nikolic followed with a fastbreak dunk off a steal to put Efes up 1-6 lead. The Greens struggled to score against the man-to-man defense of Efes, and then Domercant beat the shot clock with a fake-and-shoot three-pointer that extended the difference to 1-9. Just when the local fans started to wonder about their team, Kutluay got the Greens started with free throws. Then, just under the 5-minute mark, Lakovic drilled the first basket for Panathinaikos from downtown. It was not the last triple for the hosts, but his Lakovic's next shot was a driving layup that opened up the Efes defense. Batiste scored in the paint to give Panathinaikos its first lead, 10-9, after 7 minutes. Meanwhile, Efes went scoreless for more than 4 minutes against a physical Panathinaikos defense until Lakovic capped a 13-0 run with his second triple for a 14-9 lead. That sparked a three-point contest in which Domercant added one from the left wing for Efes while Kutluay matched it with an off-balance bomb for the Greens. Alvertis came off the bench for substitute free throws when Kostas Tsartsaris got hurt trying to dunk. Then Alvertis calmly buried his first shot the arc. Domercant was there to match that one, too, however, limiting the Panathinaikos lead to 22-17 after 10 minutes.
Diamantidis and Lakovic combined for 3 free throws early in the second quarter, then Alvertis nailed an uncontested three-pointer to boost the Panathinaikos lead to double-digits, 28-17. Efes went scoreless for almost 2 minutes until Prkacin came off the baseline for a layup, but Batiste matched that with a tip-in in the other end while a red hot Alvertis fired in a corner three after a great save by Dimitris Diamantidis. The sellout crowd went wild once Batiste took over with a two-handed fast break dunk, the pass slapped to him through two Efes defenders by Alvertis, as Panathinaikos soared ahead 35-21. While Efes could only score a couple free throws, Vlado Scepanovic stepped up with another three-pointer to make it a 15-point game, 38-23, for the Greens. With free throws by Domercant, a put-back layup by Kecman and a three-pointer by Solomon, Efes clawed its way back to within 40-30. But even when Ender Arslan came up with a three-pointer for Efes, Kutluay made one before him and Scepanovic after, so when Lakovic danced through the lane for a layup, the lead was back up to 15 points, 48-33. Efes was in trouble, but did what it had to, finishing the half the way it started, with a 0-6 run on 4 points by Mustafa Abi and a buzzer-beater by Solomon to cut the lead back to single digits, 48-39 at the break.
To reestablish the three-point show, Lakovic opened the third quarter with a seven-meter triple as the Panathinaikos lead went back up to double digits. After Kutluay slashed for a layup and fired in his third bomb from downtown, the Greens were in full control again at 56-41. Efes again struggled to score, while Diamantidis broke the Efes 2-3 zone defense with yet another three, the 12th for the hosts in the 16 attempts until then, forcing Efes to call timeout at 59-41. Panathinaikos excelled at both ends now, with intensity on defense and easy options on offense. Big man Patrick Femerling's bucket in the paint made it a 20-point game, 61-41, as everything seemed to roll for the Greens. Kostas Tsartsaris made a put-back dunk, while Kutluay drew an unsportsman foul on Niksa Prkacin. While Efes scored only free throws for more than 8 minutes, a free throw by Lakovic gave the hosts a 25-point lead, 68-43. Domercant and Abi combined now for 6 quick points, trying to bring Efes back to life. Kaya Peker made free throws to cap a 0-8 run, but Scepanovic matched that and Lonny Baxter added a layup to preserve a mammoth Panathinaikos lead, 72-52, after 30 minutes.
Efes was down, but not out. The visitors held Panathinaikos scoreless in the opening 2 minutes of the final quarter, while Kecman nailed a corner three to bring his team within 72-56. After Georgios Kalaitzis hit a fastbreak layup for the Greens, however, Efes seemed to need a miracle. It almost got one. Using a small lineup with Abi at power forward, Prkacin scored twice in the paint to bring the guests within 74-60. Back-to-back turnovers stalled the guests as Panathinaikos continued playing with long possessions to kill time. Then, Kecman found an uncontested layup and nailed a three-pointer to bring the guests within single digits, 74-65. Panathinaikos struggled to score, while Solomon beat the shot clock with an amazing three off the glass. Now Efes was closer that at any time since the early second quarter, 74-67 with 3:25 to play. A red hot Solomon capped a 0-13 run with a driving layup, making it 74-69, but Diamantidis added a put-back for the first Panathinaikos points in 5 minutes. Kuqo and Domercant hit 1 of 2 free throws each as the difference went back to 5 points, 76-71. With a chance to cut it further, however, Kuqo was called for offensive charging just before he sank a basket that didn't count. At the other end, Femerling sealed the outcome with a tip-in that made it 78-71, and Lakovic took care of the rest with a long two-point jumper and 4 free throws. The 18,000 Panathinaikos fans had waited three years, but now their Greens were going back to the Final Four!
Thursday, April 14, 2005