In a show of force that drew applause from even the opposing fans, Maccabi Tel Aviv beat hot Panathinaikos 84-91 in Athens on Thursday in a Group B game that the visitors led by as many as 27 points in the last quarter. The victory preserved Maccabi's co-leader status as it remains tied for first place with CSKA at 8-2. Panathinaikos fell to 5-5 to rejoin the ongoing war in the middle of the Group B pack. A 13-33 first quarter said everything about Maccabi's readiness to take on its old rival on its own floor. Sarunas Jasikevicius led the assault from downtown, making 7 of 10 three-pointers by the end and finishing with 30 points, 20 of those in the first half. Nikola Vujcic added 18 for the winners, Anthony Parker 12, Tal Burstein 11 and Maceo Baston 10. Panathinaikos, which came back to within 3 points of the lead after halftime, was led by Jaka Lakovic with 22 points, Ariel McDonald with 19 and Fragiskos Alvertis with 18.
The tipoff barely fell to the floor before Maccabi started proving immediately and without doubt its intentions and its power to see them realized. The guests seemed able to score in any way they pleased, taking the homecourt advantage away from Panahinaikos. Using a zone defense and playing fast and furious, Maccabi jumped ahead 3-8 and improved to 8-18 after 6 minutes on a three-pointer by Tal Burnstein. Only Dimitris Papanikolaou was scoring for the Greens, 7 of their first 10 points. Maccabi was not only unstoppable, but spectacular. They didn't face any problems scoring against any defense Panathinaikos tried, and the proof came in the the last 80 seconds. Maccabi launched three shots from the arc - two by Jasikevicius and one at the buzzer by Vujcic - and all of them were good, closing an 11-0 run with a truly astounding first-quarter score: 13-33.
Panathinaikos tried to react, but early in the second quarter, nothing worked still. Maccabi continued to outrebound Panahinaikos and create easy fastbreak points, while stopping the Greens with zone defense to lead once again by 20 points, 18-38. And just as suddenly, Panathinaikos caught fire itself. The Greens improved their defense, found solutions against the zone and took advantage of the fact that Maceo Baston sat down with his second foul. Lakovic led his team on 10-0 run to get back in the game at 28-38. Jasikevicius mounted his own response for Maccabi, sinking 2 consecutive three-pointers to boost the lead to 30-44 after 17 minutes. Jasikevicius had 20 points by then and Lakovic 15, but now Fragiskos Alvertis was the one to help the Greens cut the margin and give his team life again. With 23 seconds to go, the captain of the Greens hit a triple for 38-46, and then Nikos Hatzivrettas dunked the ball to close the gap to 40-46 at the end of the first half.
Panathinaikos continued to surge after halftime as Ariel McDonald's three-pointer made it 43-46 and Alvertis, defending Baston now, also nailed another triple for 46-49. The visitors didn't panic, however, but rather used their defense now to fuel a 0-7 run to reestablish a double-digit margin, 46-56, thanks to triple by Anthony Parker. Deon Thomas and Vujcic nailed 4 more points to Maccabi's lead, 49-62, as Panathinaikos had trouble scoring against the zone and rebounding. Parker finished a fast break and scored free throws, then Yotam Halperin added a layup to give Maccabi a 17-point lead, 53-70, after 30 minutes.
Maccabi did not let up in the last quarter, locking down Panathinaikos on defense while scoring at will from both on its fastbreak and half-court offenses. The visitors outscored the Greens by 10-0 in 3 minutes to lead 53-80, obliging even the fans of Panathinaikos to applaud their skills. But the Greens showed their pride and didn’t let Maccabi hold a party. They found the energy and the pride to knock big chunks off the deficit with a 27-8 run over 7 minutes, cutting the margin from 53-80 to 80-88. Time ran out on the Greens, so Maccabi took a deserved and impressive victory home to Tel Aviv while Panathinaikos kissed its win streak goodbye.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Vassilis Skountis, Athens