At the end of a spectacular and up-tempo game, 2002 Euroleague champ Panathinaikos beat Final Four-bound Montepaschi Siena by 111-103 in Athens on Wednesday, taking revenge on the very team that ended its reign. Panathinaikos had played in three consecutive Final Fours before this year's and its head coach, Zelimir Obradovic, had never been eliminated from Euroleague competition in his career. Montepaschi paid for ending those streaks, but the winner was the crowd in Athens, which saw what was almost an all-star game in style. Panathinaikos, playing without Daryrl Middleton and Fragiskos Alvertis, was led in scoring by Kostas Tsartsaris with 23 points. Rodney Buford added 21, Jaka Lakovic 17, Antonis Fotsis 15 and Ibrahim Kutluay 12. Mirsad Turkcan had another big night for Montepaschi, 24 points and 10 rebounds. Roberto Chiacig added 16 points, Cal Bowdler 14 and Alphonso Ford 12 for the visitors. Montepaschi, however, moves on to the Final Four by virtue of finishing 4-2 in Group E, while Panathinaikos finishes 3-3.
Rodney Buford returned on the court for the first time after his 40 days absence and he scored the first basket of the game with a jumper. Giorgos Balogiannis, a usual reserve player, was selected by Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic to defend against Alphonso Ford, while Antonis Fotsis was matched with Mirsad Turkcan. Thanks to Kostas Tsartsaris, who started the game at the center position and he was very effective, Panathinaikos took an early lead, 13-7, after 4 minutes. In a very open and offense-oriented game, since both teams had nothing to lose, Ford tied for Montepaschi Siena, 22-22, with 2 minutes left in the quarter. That was enough time for a 6-0 Panathinaikos run to a 28-22 lead after 10 minutes. Tsartsaris and Turkcan had already scored 11 points each.
To start the second quarter, Montepaschi coach Ergin Ataman decided to play a 2-1-2 zone defense, but Balogiannis hit a three-pointer immediately for a 31-25 lead. Panathinaikos opened the margin to 40-32 after 13 minutes of play, while Zelimir Obradovic switched Buford to power forward to defend Turkcan. Roberto Chiacig was the player who supported Turkcan in scoring, but Panathinaikos had more alternatives, since Montepaschi Siena had come to Athens without Dusan Vuksevic and Michalis Kakiouzis, cordially welcomed from the fans of Panathinaikos, was there but injured and not ready to play. With Buford at power forward, the Greens found more offensive options en route to a double-digit lead that hit 54-41 after 18 minutes. Arriel McDonald's three-pointer at the buzzer gave Panahinaikos a 13-point advantage, 59-46, at the end of a very spectacular half. Buford had 16 points by then for Panathinaikos and Turkcan 13 for Montepaschi.
Obradovic surprised everybody in the thir quarter by tring a 2-3 zone defense, which worked perfectly. Thanks to the zone, a high percentage in field goals and fastbreak opportunities, Panathinaikos soared ahead 69-52 after 23 minutes. Montepaschi suffered on defense and missed the offensive spirit of previous games. Ibrahim Kutluay was on fire during the third period and Lazaros Papadopoulos tried to show his potential. Panathinaikos was 18 points ahead, 83-65, after 27 mintues. Giorgos Kalaitzis sank the 12th three-pointer for his team at the buzzer for a 86-70 home lead after 30 minutes.
An impressive slam dunk by Tsartsaris gave Panathinaikos a maxiumum lead of 21 points, 91-70, early in the last quarter. Both teams tried to play a run-and-gun game that at times approached an all-star game atmosphere. Montepaschi got the best of that, making a 10-24 run to make things look respectable. Aaron Mitchell hit a three-pointer for Montepaschi to cut the margin, 101-94, with 3 minutes remaining, but Panathinaikos didn't allow the guests to get any closer.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Vassilis Skountis, Athens