Panathinaikos registered its eighth and most difficult victory of the season, 83-80 against visiting CSKA Moscow on Thursday in a thrilling game, one of the best in 2001-02 Euroleague so far. The Russians (5-4) despite the absence of Mirsad Turckan, came as a very dangerous guest and came within a final shot, a three-point miss by Raimundas Miglinieks at the buzzer, of reaching overtime. The 4,000 fans on hand in Athens saw a head-to-head battle between two Croatian friends. Panathianikos guard Damir Mulaomerovic won game and the scoring battle, finishing with 31 points against 30 by Gordan Giricek of CSKA. Panathinaikos can now count 10 straight wins between the Euroleague and the Greek League and is a win away from being mathematically qualified for the Top 16. CSKA falls into a tie for third place, at 5-4, with Pau-Orthez.
Nikita Morgunov scored the very first basket of the game and gave CSKA the lead, but Panathinaikos was ready to dominate everywhere. The Greens, led by Lazaros Papadopoulos, answered with a 10-0 run in less than three minutes for a 12-2 lead, stirring all the support necessary from nearly 4,000 spectators. CSKA cut the margin to 12-7, but over the ensuing five minutes, Panathinaikos played perfect basketball! Damir Mulaomerovic, who started the game as shooting guard and then moved to point guard replacing Pepe Sanchez, was unstoppable. He scored 10 points and cranked up the tempo of the game, allowing his teammates to perform in a excellent way. Corey Albano hit a three-pointer to give Panathinaikos a 16-point lead, 30-14. CSKA could only manage to add three points to its side of the ledger before the quarter ended with Panathinaikos ahead 30-17.
As it turned out, those three points at the end of the first quarter were the beginning of CSKA's prideful answer. Despite the continuing absence of Mirsad Turckan, CSKA came up big and changed absolutely the scenario of the game. Led by shooter Gordan Giricek, CSKA ran off its own 0-12 tear to cut the margin to four points, 30-26. By that time Giricek had already scored 16 out of 26 points for the Russian guests, which due to its perfect defensive rotations didn't allow Panathinaikos to connect with the basket. CSKA ended up outscoring Panathinaikos 4-23 to take a three-point lead at 34-37. Dejan Bodiroga tied the game, in 37-37, but Giricek has the answer in his pocket (37-39) and CSKA went to the locker room with a three points advantage (38-41). At the end of the first half, Gordan Giricek led all scorers with 18 points, followed by Mulaomerovic with 12 for Panathinaikos.
After 25 minutes of play, Darryl Middleton tied the game 51-51 in what was proving to be a great basketball game between two teams who never gave up. CSKA managed to control the tempo of the game as Panathinaikos was lacking for offensive alternatives after Mulaomerovic and Bodiroga. CSKA took advantage of that and, led by Giricek, opened the margin to 5 points, at 54-59, but the Greens answered immediately. Bodiroga tied the game at 59-59, but a few seconds later before the conclusion of the third period was called for a technical foul. Giricek, up to 23 points already, sank both free throws as CSKA took a 59- 61 edge into the final quarter.
And then came the thrilling end this game deserved. Mulaomerovic hit his fifth three-pointer to give Panathinaikos a five-point lead, 78-73, just 90 seconds before the finish, but CSKA was not done. Curtis McCants cut the margin to two points, 79-77, and then it was Frangiskos Alvertis's turn to put his signature. With a no-look jumpshot, 36 seconds before the end, the captain of Panathinaikos scored the biggest basket of the game to put the scoreboard at 81-77. Giricek, with 1 for 2 free throws, left it at 81-78, but immediately committed his fifth foul on Bodiroga. Unexpectably, Bodiroga missed 1 of the 2 free throws, and after Nikita Morgunov scored for CSKA, did so again. So 10 seconds before the end of the game, Panathinaikos was leading by three, 83-80. The game-tying shot attempt by Raimundas Miglinieks missed at the buzzer and Panathinaikos retained the Euroleague's best record at 8-1.
Thursday, December 20, 2001
Vassilis Skountis, Athens