Say hello to the first team to mathematically assure itself of a place in the Top 16: Panathinaikos of Greece! Pau-Orthez of France came close to achieving one of the most surprising wins of the 2001-02 Euroleague, but even on a bad night without Damir Mulaomerovic, Panathinaikos stayed untouchable with a 67-63 Group C victory at home in Athens. The Greens (9-1) remains the team with the best record in the competition behind 21 clutch points by Frangiskos Alvertis and 17 from Dejan Bodiroga. Although both teams missed a lot of shots and emphasized defense more, the game became a thrilling one during the last minutes, when Pau-Orthez took its first lead since the early going, but Panathinaikos answered by a 7-0 run and registered the win. Pau drops to 5-5, but that is still good enough for sole possession fourth place in the group with four games left to play.
The Greens tried from the very first moment of the game to show they were boss on the court. Despite the absence of the injured Mulaomerovic, they ran ahead 6-0 on the way to an early 12-5 lead after six minutes. Pau-Orthez would come up big and quickly, however. Florent Pietrus grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to finish off an 0-8 run and put his team ahead 12-13. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic called a timeout and when the teams returned to the court, Bodiroga hit a three-pointer which put Panathinaikos ahead 15-13 at the end of the first period. Bodiroga was the best scorer with 7 points in a game already characterized by defense, quick moves made by both teams and a lot of missed shots as well.
Giorgos Balogiannis, a player from the support cast of Panathinaikos, didn' t hesitate to show his shooting abilities in the second quarter. The 31-year-old guard sank two consecutive three-pointers to open the gap to 25-19, but unfortunately was injured during the second shot and returned to the bench to be treated by the doctors. Pepe Sanchez added his quickness and baseball passes to finish a couple fastbreaks and give the home team its first double-digit lead, 33-21, one minute before the end of the second quarter. Four seconds before the end of the first half, Obradovic called another timeout, and when his team returned, Alvertis found the time, the space and the move to hit a tremendous three-pointer for a 36-24 lead. The athletic Pau players had missed a lot of easy open shots, which explained the gap at that point.
By the beginning of the third quarter, Pau seemed more aggressive and competitive. The French team played great defense, especially against Bodiroga, and at the same time it found the offensive solutions they missed earlier from Dragan Lukovski, Rod Sellers and Roger Esteller.The latter scored five consecutive points from Giannis Giannoulis and Giannis Sioutis turnovers to push Pau to within 42-40 at the conclusion of a 6-16 run. But then it was Alvertis's turn. The captain of Panathinaikos punished a Pau zone by scoring eight consecutive points and a total of 10 in five minutes as the Panathinaikos soared back to eight, at 55-47, to end the quarter.
Neither Panathinaikos, nor Pau-Orthez managed to score a single point during the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The Greens scored only one basket in seven minutes, in fact, as the visitors, due to their superb defense and a three-pointer by Esteller, took its first lead of the second half, 57-58, just three minutes before the final buzzer. Alvertis came up big again in scoring one of the most important baskets of the game at 59-58. He was followed by Johnny Rogers and Dejan Bodiroga, who buried a three-pointer to punctuate a 7-0 run to a 64-58 lead with under two minutes left. Rod Sellers cut the margin to 64-60, but the veteran Rogers once again put his signature on a jumper that opened the lead again to 66-60 and decided the winner.
Thursday, January 10, 2002