What started as a breathtaking game in Pau on Wednesday night ended that way as well when Pau-Orthez defeated visiting AEK Athens 86-84 in the last seconds thanks to a pair of late free throws from Dragan Lukovski. Despite being ahead in the first minutes, Pau could not help AEK taking over behind big men Demos Dikoudis and Andrew Betts. But in the last quarter, a steady reaction from the hosts created the opportunity for the win in the final seconds. With this result, Pau-Orthez improves to 4-8 in Group A and keeps its Top 16 hopes alive, while AEK stays on the bottom at 1-11. The winners were led by Mickael Pietrus with 15 points. Frederic Fauthoux added 13, Florent Pietrus bagged 12 and Lukovski contributed 11. For AEK, Betts tallied 25 points, Dikoudis nailed 19 and Nikos Hatzis contributed 16.
The first minutes of the game were a fan's delight as both teams decided to come out scoring. The game was fast and both teams hit good percentages, such that a Boris Diaw layup put Pau ahead 7-6 after 2 minutes. A back-and-forth trend was being established. First a team would forge an important scoring run, and then the rival responded in kind. Pau pulled the trigger with a 6-0 spurt sealed by Lukovski for 11-6, but a dunk by Betts soon made it 11-10. Now, Pau went off on a 9-2 run to lead 20-13. But AEK, led by Dikoudis, took its turn again with a 0-6 climb to 20-19. It was still only minute 6. Both coaches saw that too, and soon enough, defenses took a more important role. AEK's defense would only allow Pau 2 more points in the remaining 4 minutes, but Pau also worked on the defensive end. After 10 minutes the Greek visitors led by just a point, 22-23.
The second quarter started with both teams alternating fast baskets again. AEK was slightly superior under the boards, thanks mostly to the dirty work done by Betts against Rod Sellers in the paint. Hatzis scored his first basket in minute 13 for a 29-30 AEK lead. Neither team managed to pull away, however. The power of the Greeks under the boards was evident again as Betts hit his 11th point from the low post, but both Mickael and Florent Pietrus kept Pau at a safe distance - 40-42 in minute 19 - with three-pointers and dunks. A last-second play resulted in a clean jumper for Rodney Blackney and a 40-44 edge at the break for AEK.
The start of the second half fell on Pau's side as the hosts, led by Diaw, drew within 43-44 at the same time that they improved their performance under the boards. Dikoudis was there to help his team maintain, however, and his three-point play plus a three-point shot by Hatzis sent AEK away again at 43-50. AEK was making all the shots now, and a final burst from the visitors came late in the third quarter and resulted in a nine-point lead, 48-57, in minute 27. Pau fought its way back and free throws by Lukovski almost bridged the gap at 58-61. Betts was still getting the better of Pau inside, however, and after 30 minutes, the lead had returned to 8 points, 62-70, for AEK.
A joyride began with the decisive quarter. A joyride for Pau-Orthez fans, that is. The hosts trailed 70-76 early in the quarter when Frederic Fauthoux alone nuetralized the deficit. The veteran guard connected on a triple and added 2 free throws to put his team only a point behind at 75-76. Then, Artur Drozdov sealed what had looked almost impossible in the previous quarter, a new lead for Pau, 77-76. Betts appeared again with 4 straight points to take back a 77-80 advantage for AEK. But another triple by Drozdov, and later a dunk by Mickael Pietrus, solved things for Pau at 82-80. The game entered the last minute steaming, and the pressure showed when Drozdov committed a turnover that was taken advantage of by Dikoudis to put AEK up 82-84. Pau coach Fred Sarre called a timeout to prepare the last plays, and the first was successful as Mickael Pietrus appeared again to tie the score again at 84-84. A final foul by Blackney over Lukovski with practically no time left to play gave the Pau point guard the chance to win the game for his team. And he took it, remaining calm enough to nail both attempts and give a much-needed breathtaking win to the French fans.
Wednesday, January 29, 2003