Although it came on the last day of the regular season, Panathinaikos took the most direct route to the Top 16 on Thursday when blew out visiting Krka 101-67 in Athens to clinch fifth place in Group B. Panathinaikos boosted its record to 7-7 and finished tied with Montepaschi, but the Italians won the tiebreaker between them based on a + 8 score difference in their two head-to-head games. Krka finished its season with a 2-12 record. After a slow first quarter, Panathinaikos broke the game open before halftime and never looked back. Nikos Hatzivrettas had 17 points to lead six Panathinaikos players in double figures. Arriel McDonald and Darryl Middleton added 15 points each, Fragiskos Alvertis 13, Jaka Lakovic 13 and Kostas Tsartsaris 11. Together, the Greens made 14 of 25 three-pointers. Rick Rickert led Krka with 13 points and Marton Bader added 12.
The first period of the game was a big surprise for Panathinaikos. Krka Novo Mesto took an early 2-10 lead using Clarence Gilbert’s scoring abilities. The Krka point guard got loose for 6 of his team's first 10 points, causing great problems to former Krka leader Jaka Lakovic. But starting with a triple by Nikos Hatzivrettas, the Greens woke up and in a matter of minutes tied the game 12-12. McDonald became the hosts' go-to guy then, burying 2 big three-pointers, the second one on the first-quarter buzzer, which was enough to give Panathinaikos a slim 20-18 lead to finish the first quarter, though it was already obvious that the young Slovenians had little stress in comparison to the Greens, who were fighting for survival.
Panathinaikos learned its lesson from the first quarter and came out playing strong defense in the second. With that attitude, the Greens surged ahead 29-21 on 5 more points in a row by McDonald. Rick Rickert, Marko Antonijevic and Slavko Duscak made 2 points each to keep Krka within 32-27, but that only lasted until Kostas Tsartsaris scored and Fragiskos Alvertis buried a triple to open up a 10-point lead, 37-27, for the hosts. While Krka got some more points from Rickert and his partner in the paint, Marton Bader, it was otherwise clear that the Slovenians faced big problems with the Panathinaikos defense. They also had problems guarding the Panathinaikos scorers, as Hatzivrettas reemerged with a shot from downtown for his team's biggest lead yet, 44-32. There was still time for Alvertis to give one more push to his team, as the Greens reached the locker room with a 48-34 halftime lead.
During the third period Panathinaikos became even more spectacular, outscoring Krka 26-18. Very tough defense, many steals and more fastbreaks led to some noisy dunks by Tsartsaris as the Greens improved the edge to 22 points twice, 72-50 and 74-52, the latter coming exactly at the end of the third quarter. McDonald didn't score but he organized the whole Panathinaikos show to perfection. Beside him Darryl Middleton looked like Karl Malone, while Lakovic had an effective shooting performance. On the other hand, Krka tried to limit Panathinaikos by using zone defense, though none of the visitors posed any danger to the Greek defenders.
After Panathinaikos made it 88-57 midway through the final quarter, the most important goal for the Greek fans was 100 points. Well, having a crazy rhythm like this, it was not so difficult. Giorgos Kalaitzis gave the pleasure to the fans, as the NT point guard hit both free throws to make it 101-65, 34 seconds before the end of the game. Before him Giannis Gagaloudis came from the bench and hit two threes, while Hatzivrettas finished many fast breaks with unique slam dunks. On the other hand, Bader had a decent effort scoring eight points in the last period, although the big difference in experience made Krka an easy target for the three times Euroleague champs, who finished the regular season with a tied 7-7 record.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens