Panathinaikos registered its first win in Group D by edging Partizan Igokea 67-65 at the Athens Indoor Olympic Hall on Wednesday night. Panathinaikos is now tied with Efes Pilsen for second place in Group B, both with a 1-1 record. Partizan is one win behind them at 0-2. Vassilis Spanoulis paced the winners with 20 points, while Mike Batiste barely missed a double-double with 9 points and 12 rebounds. He hit free throws and had a key block on Milenko Tepic to win it for the Greens in the final 19.5 seconds. Dusan Kecman had 13 points to lead Partizan, Milt Palacio 11 and Cedomir Vitkovac 10. Kecman shined early while a three-pointer by Petar Bozic and a final basket by Uros Tripkovic gave Partizan a 21-23 edge after 10 minutes. Free throws by Nikola Pekovic gave the guests a 25-34 edge midway through the second quarter but Spanoulis brought Panathinaikos within 34-40 at halftime. Vitkovac and an outstanding Kecman gave Partizan its biggest margin, 41-56, late in the third quarter, as everyone at OAKA had already started to wonder. Spanoulis and Sani Becirovic fueled the Greens' comeback while a corner triple by Nikos Hatzivrettas gave Panathinaikos a 65-63 edge with two minutes to go. Vitkovac and Novica Velickovic tied the game with foul shots. Batiste gave the Greens the lead with 17.5 seconds to go and had a big block on Tepic. Partizan got the ball back with 1.9 seconds remaining but could not get a shot down the stretch.
The game got underway with Partizan bursting ahead 4-9, thanks to their ability to dominate the offensive boards and score in transition. After a much-needed timeout, Batiste tried to produce in the paint, but his layup attempt was emphatically rejected by Slavko Vranes and Palacio finished the fast-break to silence the crowd. However, Panathinaikos is not regarded a great team that prides itself on defense without reason. The Greens flashed some of their trademark defense, asphyxiating Partizan and leaving them scoreless for almost four minutes. Spanoulis spearheaded the counter-attack and the hosts used a 12-0 run to bounce back and build a 16-12 advantage. The crowd went crazy, yet the guests did not lose their composure and, with Tepic on fire, embarked on a three-point exhibition that allowed them to surge to a 21-23 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Entering the second quarter, Sarunas Jacikevicius stepped up and knocked down back-to-back jumpers. Still, Palacio responded with some off-balanced shots to keep the Euroleague Champions at bay and Vitkovac fired in a triple to make it 25-32. With both teams fighting now tooth and nail, Spanoulis unleashed a bomb from downtown, then finished coast-to-coast and finally hit a free throw that pulled Panathinaikos within 32-36 and more importantly sent the noise level off the meter. After a Partizan timeout, Vranes bricked 2 free throws and Spanoulis muscled his way to the basket to cut the deficit to 34-36. Once again though, the guests were too passionate to let their more experienced opponents swing the momentum back to their way and managed with Palacio as their go-to guy to hold a 34-40 lead at the break.
Partizan came out in the second half determined to stay in charge and so it did. Tepic stole an inbounds pass to finish the break and the free-throw that came with it and moments later Vitkovac picked up the scoring slack to boost the margin to an impressive 34-47. Kennedy Winston contributed 4 points to give the Greens some hope, but Partizan anchored its subsequent offensive plays in the paint and its frontcourt tandem of Pekovic and Velickovic did not falter. Then, instead of folding, Kecman pulled a triple up his sleeve to frustrate the crowd and stretch the lead to 41-54. The roaring crowd tried to ignite the Greens and Spanoulis rewarded them as he first slashed to the basket and then dished to Batiste for a two-handed dunk that sliced the margin to 49-56 with one period remaining.
Powerhouse Pekovic was the first to score in the final period, yet the Greens were not willing to go down without a valiant fight. With Spanoulis being the permanent reference to score, Panathinaikos pulled within 53-58, however Kecman blasted one more triple to push Partizan’s margin to 8. Sani Becirovic answered back with a three-point play and, as the hosts stifled their defense, Panathinaikos managed to close the gap to 60-63. It was Euroleague Basketball at its finest now with both teams fighting to the last ditch. Palacio misfired a wide-open triple with 2:36 left, allowing Spanoulis to make it a 1-point game. Partizan was clearly in trouble offensively and it wasn’t long before Nikos Hatzivrettas threw in a critical triple for a 65-63 lead. With 1:08 before the final buzzer, Velickovic tied the game at 65-65 from the charity line, but then Tepic failed to restore the lead for the guests. Batiste converted 2 free throws and with the clock ticking down he swatted away Tepic’s attempt to send the game to overtime. Partizan had a final 2 seconds to win the game, however Dimitris Diamantidis locked Tepic down, who failed to shoot the ball and as a result Panathinaikos escaped once again victorious against Partizan.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008