Panathinaikos overcame a stiff challenge with fourth-quarter rally to take the first step in its title defense by 81-67 over visiting Skipper Bologna in Group E on Wednesday. After trailing by 4 early in the fourth quarter, Panathinaikos responded with a 13-4 run sparked by three-pointers from Antonis Fotsis, Jaka Lakovic and Arriel McDonald. That pushed the Greens to victory and a 1-0 record to start Group E, while Skipper goes home from Athens at 0-1. Lakovic was the Greens' best scorer with 22 points. Rodney Buford added 19, Fotsis 18 and Ibrahim Kutluay 12. For Skipper, Carlos Delfino paced the losing effort with 18 points, Vlado Scepanovic and Gianluca Basile added 13 apiece, the latter scoring his all in the first 7 minutes.
Fotsis scored 7 consecutive points in 2 minutes to put the Greens ahead 7-3 to start the game, but Skipper had the proper answer. Basile had those first points for Skipper, and seemed to be unstoppable as he managed to add 10 more, all his team's points over 7 minutes as the visitors took a 10-13 lead. Lubos Barton was the first player of the Italian team to score after Basile, preserving a 15-16 lead 2 minutes before the end of the first quarter. But Skipper had already seen its first foul trouble, with Emilio Kovacic on the bench with his third. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic had used two point guards from the beginning of the game, but now decided to change the defense against Basile. Giorgos Kalaitzis was called from the bench to replace Lakovic and to defend against the top gun of Skipper. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos had more alternatives than Skipper and led by 19-16, but Gianmarco Pozzecco came up big to hit a three-pointer from 9 meters. Though he could hardly be sorry, he turned and asked the Panathinaikos spectators to forgive him. With his spectacular triple, Skipper led by 21-23 at the end of the first period.
The second quarter gave both coaches the opportunity to try a different approach to the game. Given that Fragiskos Alvertis and Kostas Tsartsaris were not in the roster due to health problems, Obradovic decided to send Buford to play at power forward, which gave Panahinaikos more versatility and options both in defense and offense. Skipper coach Jasmin Repesa continued using Barton at power forward. Buford sank a three in the middle of a 10-4 lead that put Panathinaikos in front again, 40-35, at the end of the first half. By that time, Panathinaikos and especially Lakovic were playing much better defense against Basile. Buford led all game scorers after 20 minutes with 15 points, followed by Basile, who still had the same 13 points he had started with.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Skipper Bologna quit the zone defense it tried during the last minutes of the first half and returned to its individual defense, which didn't trouble Panathinaikos. McDonald stayed on the bench due to three personal fouls, but Lakovic kept limiting shooting opportunities for Basile. What's more, he hit a three-pointer to boost the lead to 47-38 after 22 minutes. Mate Skelin and Darryl Middleton engaged in some outstanding struggles under the boards, but Galanda was hit with a third foul and Scepanovic his fourth 3 minutes before the end of the third quarter. Despite those foul troubles, Skipper stayed focused and effective. Repesa called for another zone and played with Pozzecco, Basile and Delfino together, something that worked immediately to create fastbreak opportunities. A 0-6 run suddendly had Skipper in the lead again, 51-52. And at the end of the third period the visitors were still ahead, 55-57, thanks to a three-point play by Skelin.
Panathinaikos and Skipper Bologna continued to play a very close and interesting game in the fourth quarter. The Italians, led by Delfino, surged ahead to 55-59, but Fotsis and Lakovic hit triples against the zone defense to take back a lead for the Greens at 61-59. Panathinaikos played with three perimeter players and McDonald sank another triple, good for 68-63, just before leaving with his fifth personal foul after 36 minutes. Buford returned to the court, but Lakovic was the player to decide the game and to seal the Panathinaikos victory in its Top 16 opener. Lakovic scored 4 consecutive points and then he stole the ball, good enough to push the margin to double digits, where it stayed the rest of the way. The Greens kept playing great defense during the fourth period, adding an 11-0 run to lead by 79-65, before finishing ahead by 13, points that could come in handy when a Group E winner is decided after 6 games.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003