The two "eternal opponents" of Greek basketball squared off in Athens for their Top 16 opener on Thursday, and when the dust settled, Olympiakos had blasted previously high-flying Panathinaikos 92-75. The final score does not show how completely the Reds handled their rivals, who had ripped through until now with the Euroleague's top regular season record. A 12-0 run early in the second quarter gave Olympiakos control of the game in its return to Peace and Friendship Stadium and a crowd of 8,000. The Reds only poured it on more as the game progressed, leading by an incredible 28 points, 73-45, by the end of three quarters. Alphonso Ford did not score almost until halftime but led the winners with 21 points. Patrick Femerlin added 18, Ignacio De Miguel 17, James Forrest 13 and Theodoro Papaloukas 10. For Panathinaikos, Dejan bodiroga canned 21, Pepe Sanchez 15 and Ibrahim Kutluay 13. Now, Olympiakos is 1-0 and tied with AEK for the Group G lead after one week, while the Greens and Union Olimpija are 0-1.
As a typical derby of the Greek basketball, the game between the two "eternals opponents" had a lot of emotion. Olympiakos coach Lefteris Subotic tried to stop Panathiniakos lethal weapon Dejan Bodiroga by using tall point guard Theodoros Papaloukas to cover him. On the other bench, Zeljko Obradovic chose Bodiroga to defend Ford, the Euroleague regular season scoring champ. Surprisingly, Ford didn't score a single point during the first period, shooting 0 for 5 from the field, but despite that rarity, Olympiakos took leads early and often. The Reds went ahead by 5 points, 7-2, but Bodiroga and Pepe Sanchez came up big to tie it 7-7 for Panathinaikos and then to take the Greens' first lead, at 11-12, after seven minutes of play. Olympiakos took it back quickly enough, but Johnny Rogers then stepped up and drilled a three-pointer for a 17-18 Panathinaikos lead. Milan Tomic sould have the final say, however, with a two-pointer at the buzzer, good for a 19-18 Olympiakos lead after 10 minutes.
By the beginning of the second quarter, Olympiakos was ready to storm! Ford stayed out of the scoring column still, but the Reds embarked on a 12-0 run over 4 minutes that solidified a double-digit lead of 35-20. Panathinaikos was missing its defensive and competitive spirit, which allowed Olympiakos to dominate under the boards by 20 rebounds to 10 at one point. Olympiakos kept trapping Bodiroga in the low post with Papaloukas and Ford or by Nikolaos Boudouris and Ford, but the Panathinaikos perimeter players didn't manage to take advantage of that. Ford finally scored 4 consecutive points, 2 free throws and his very first field goal, 2 minutes and 41 seconds before the half time. When Patrick Femerling followed with a jumper, the Olympiakos margin had soared to 19 points, 43-24. Seconds before the conclusion of the first half, Boudouris upped that margin to 21 points and a halftime score of 48-27. Olympiakos had won the second quarter but the incredible score of 29-9. Tomic and Femerling had 9 points each for Olympiakos, as did Sanchez and Bodiroga for the Greens.
After halftime, with 8,000 passionate fans behind it, Olympiakos continued to play the game as an one-team show! Obradovic tried to add some defensive pressure, but nothing changed. Olympiakos used its excellent passing game, balance between back court and front line and led by an outstanding Patrick Femerling increased the margin to 29 points, 62-33, after 25 minutes of play. The Reds were the absolute boss on the court. Ford woke up and he scored 5 points in a row to open the gap to 32 points, 69-37. Panathinaikos was unable to react until an 0-8 run 3 minutes before the end of the third quarter made it 69-46, but its comeback looked like a mission impossible. At the end of the third period, Olympiakos was still up 28 points, 73-45.
As Olympiakos already had control of the outcome, Panathinaikos made a last effort to cut the margin after Ford hit a tremendous three-pointer for a 31-point gap, at 78-47. Little by little the Greens worked that down to the final 17 points, but that was only after the Reds, playing most of the time with three guards, enjoyed the opportunity to perform some show time and to allow their fans. It was the fifth home victory in Eurolea play this season for Olympiakos in five tries, so the change of stadium made no difference. The Reds were superior on this night against their age-old rivals.
Thursday, February 28, 2002