Union Olimpija overcame Panathinaikos 85-84
Union Olimpija strengthened its hold of Group D in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season with an impressive 85-84 overtime win Thursday night over Panathinaikos. The game came down to the closing seconds when Panathinaikos guard Dimitrios Diamantidis on the line with a chance to tie the game with 2.8 seconds remaining. But he made only the first 2 of his 3 awarded free throws and when the third bounced out, the sold-out crowd of 13,000 at Stozice Arena in the Slovenian capital erupted in joy. Kevinn Pinkney led the winners with 16 points, Kenny Gregory added 13 and Vlado Ilievski 11, including a buzzer-beating jumper at the end of regulation that forced overtime. Damir Markota recorded 10 points and 6 rebounds too for Olimpija, which travels to Moscow to face CSKA next week. Panathinaikos dropped to 2-1 and meets Efes Pilsen next. Diamantidis led the Greens with 20 points and 6 assists, Mike Batiste added 16 and Antonis Fotsis 13 in the losing effort.
Determined to set the tone early, Panathinaikos took the lead 0-4 on a couple of layups by Batiste and Diamantidis, as the forward attacked early and often, finishing the opening quarter with 6 points. With the defense keying in on Olimpija’s perimeter players, head coach Zeljko Obradovic’s men forced the home team to shoot 31% from the floor in the first 10 minutes of the game and 2 free throws by Ian Vougioukas extended the visitor’s lead to double digits, 8-18. Olimpija started to turn it on defensively and looked for closer shots at the basket, as a Giorgi Shermadini dunk started the reaction, but Panathinaikos still seemed to be on cruise control as it entered the second quarter with a 16-22 edge.
Aggressive defense in the second quarter altered many of the shots taken by Panathinaikos, who committed 7 first half turnovers because of the home team’s tenacious press. Olimpija went on 16-2 run to open the second quarter and was up 32-24 at the midway point. Kostas Kaimakoglou literally took matters into his own hands and opted to drive to the basket, getting to the line and converting, but the stellar defensive effort by Olimpija, highlighted by Ozbolt , Gregory and Goran Jagodnik, kept producing turnovers and fast break opportunities, much to the delight of the electric home crowd. Nick Calathes scored on a gorgeous spinning layup, but Markota’s own dunk after a nice pass from Ilievski made it 39-28 for Olimpija as Panathinaikos struggled to keep pace. A second chance off an offensive board was not capitalized upon by Drew Nicholas on the last drive of the quarter, and Olimpija’s defense finished the half off in style with an emphatic Kenny Gregory block that left matters 39-28 for the home team.
Olimpija started the second half featuring Gregory post ups on the left side, but Panathinaikos was able to contend as Obradovic seemed to tweak quite a few things defensively during the break. Better positioning for rebounds and emphasis on ball-handling pressure allowed the Greek champs to keep close, but Markota again broke free for a powerful dunk on a beautiful feed from Ilievski and kept Olimpija in front 42-33.
A Fotsis triple hit nothing but net on the next possession for Panathinaikos and the visitors did not shy away from attacking the basket despite Olimpija’s strong defensive showing in the second quarter, as Romain Sato drove and scored to cut the lead to 42-38. It was quickly a 3-12 scoring run then for Obradovic’s crew, even after a timeout by Olimpija head coach Jure Zdvoc, and the game became a one possession affair once more, 42-40. The back and forth continued with Marque Perry’s long-awaited first basket on a corner jumper and both clubs started trading basket, as Batiste scored on a beautiful reverse and Fotsis hit his jumper to keep it close at 46-44. Faster and sharper cuts to the basket produced better chances for Panathinaikos as Batiste tied the score on a dunk and Sato put the visitors ahead, 46-48 with a layup. Still, the punches kept landing until the end of the quarter, and Perry stole the ball from Nicholas for a fast break score and the tie, 48 all, to finish off the third quarter.
Diamantidis decided to distinguish himself to start the fourth with a triple and Kostas Tsastsaris followed with one of his own t make it 50-54 for Panathinaikos, who seemed to get into a groove. But it was again Olimpija that regained the lead, 57-55, with an Ozbolt layup and deep three pointer by Pinkney. Pick-and-rolls were the staple for Zdvoc’s team on offense while Panathinaikos opted to work out of the low post with Batiste, who was awarded an unsportsmanlike foul after a rough up with Ozbolt during a scrum under the basket. With the pace off the charts and the building rocking, it was time for the stars to shine and Diamantidis came through for the Greens with a dead on triple, as Markota countered for Olimpija with a couple of baskets. Neither team seemed to be able to miss as the quality baskets kept coming: Pinkney on a tough layup under the rim, Stratos Perperoglou on a corner three and 2 free throws, Pinkney again with a between the legs dribble and tear drop bucket to tie it at 67-67 with 1:25 to play… It was a non-stop bucket festival. Both teams wanted it bad, but only one would stand atop Group D by the end. Needing a stellar individual performance in crunch time, Olimpija took a 1-point lead off an Ozbolt free throw and again went to their money man on the pick-and-roll with Pinkney. Searching for revenge on Batiste’s previous rough foul and a wider margin for his team, Ozbolt got both with a gorgeous jumper that left Olimpija ahead, 70-67. Diamantidis still hit a couple of free throws to make it the minimum difference with 32 seconds to go and then Pinkney missed both of his shots from the line and fouled Diamantidis, who converted again for Panathinaikos. Olimpija traveled on the next possession, but Diamantidis then missed his first free throw of the night, giving the home team one last chance with 9 seconds left on the clock. Ilievski made it a game to remember, after he picked up the ball off a broken play to score on a buzzer-beating jumper: 72-72. Overtime.
With Batiste benched after his unsportsmanlike foul, Obradovic finally put him back in the game in the extra period. But as both teams struggled to find the basket in the first three minutes, it was again Ozbolt who put Olimpija in front with a free throw. Ilievski and Fotsis then traded triples and Pinkney redeemed himself with a layup to make it 78-75. Batiste and Zoran Vrkic both scored, Sato only converted one of his three foul shots and it was Diamantidis again who closed the gap from the line: 82-81, and only 12 second left. The 45-minute heavyweight bout became a free throw contest, and Pinkney hit both of his shots this time to make it 84-81 with 9 seconds to go. Diamantidis had the chance to send the match into overtime once more for Panathinaikos after Vrcik missed one of his foul shots, but could not convert the last of his three foul shots with no time for more. It was 85-84 by a hair, and now Olimpija sits happily, albeit exhausted, atop Group D.
Thursday, November 4, 2010