Barcelona dominates in Athens
FC Barcelona bounced back from its loss against LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and escaped from OAKA with a valuable 77-85 win over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens on Tuesday night. The visitors, whose record improved to 19-8 to stay atop the standings, built a double-digit lead early in the second quarter and did not allow the Greens to get closer than 6 points for the remainder of the game. Nikola Mirotic paced the winners with 25 points on 5-of-9 three-point shooting, followed by Cory Higgins, who tallied 16 points - including 10 in the last 10 minutes. Mario Hezonja had an impressive debut with his new team, providing 21 points and a career-high 20 PIR in 29 minutes. Ben Bentil contributed 14 points and 4 assists, Dinos Mitoglu poured in 13 and Shelvin Mack added 11 for Panathinaikos, which dropped to 9-16.
Mirotic got the visitors going with a three-pointer and a hook-shot to build an early 4-9 lead after 3 minutes. Even though Hezonja and Bentil helped the Greens tie it soon after, Barcelona tightened its defense and found 8 more points by Mirotic on a 3-12 run that made it 12-21. Mitoglu answered from downtown to end a 4-minute scoring drought, but a nice drive by Higgins followed by a corner triple by Leandro Bolmaro closed the first quarter with the visitors comfortably on top, 17-26. The guard remained hot as he first fed Pierre Oriola and then nailed a three to extend the gap to double-digits, 20-31. The Greens tried switching defenses to slow down Barcelona, as Hezonja and Bentil combined on offense to prevent the visitors from an early escape. Coach Jasikevicius resorted to his starting five to look for offensive solutions and it worked fine, as Adam Hanga, Nick Calathes and Mirotic showed up to allow Barcelona to build a 33-45 advantage. A late reaction thanks to back-to-back triples by Hezonja and Howard Sant-Roos kept the hosts in the game at halftime, 39-47.
The Greens displayed an improved defensive performance after the break, holding the visitors scoreless for almost 3 minutes. The effort didn’t pay off, though, as only Bentil managed to score in that span before Mirotic connected from downtown and Higgins added another bucket to break the trend and make it 41-52. Baskets were few and far between from then on as Barcelona retained a double-digit edge, 46-56, behind free throws by Higgins and Mirotic. Rolands Smits and Brandon Davies joined in later, but a coast-to-coast buzzer-beating layup by Hezonja allowed Panathinaikos to enter the fourth quarter trailing by less than 10 points, 50-59. Mitoglu and Aaron White brought the hosts within 55-61 with 8 minutes to go, but back-to-back slams by Smits and Bolmaro returned a comfortable margin for the guests, 55-65, which Higgins extended later to 57-68 from behind the arc. Panathinaikos didn’t surrender, though, but couldn’t get closer than 68-74 with 3 minutes to go. Higgins took over then, as he drilled a timely three, scored a layup and assisted on Mirotic's three-pointer that returned a double-digit margin to the visitors, 70-82, who held on the rest of the way.
Mirotic opened the door…
Nikola Mirotic had an impressive start of the game, scoring 13 of Barcelona’s first 21 points in the first quarter. He helped the visitors build a solid margin from the very beginning and showed up big again in the last quarter with a big three that set a 70-82 lead entering crunch time.
… and Higgins closed it
Despite trailing for almost the entire game, Panathinaikos OPAP never gave up and managed to come within 68-74 with 3 minutes remaining. It was then when Cory Higgins decided to take the reins; he nailed a key three and followed with a layup to allow Barcelona stay calm and avoid further problems. Higgins scored 10 of his 16 total points in the last quarter.
The absences of Nemanja Nedovic and Ioannis Papapetrou forced Panathinaikos head coach Oded Katash to use recently added Mario Hezonja in the starting five. The guard thanked him with a solid performance, scoring 12 points in 13 minutes in the first half to end the game with 20 points and a career-high PIR of 20, drawing 9 fouls to go for 9-of-9 from the line.
Lights on, lights off
The visitors displayed a great offensive performance in the first half, scoring 47 points with 15 assists and 7 turnovers. Things turned upside down after the break, as Barcelona scored only 12 points in the third quarter and committed 12 turnovers in the second half. Panathinaikos could not take advantage of it, though, as the Greens were limited to 11 points in the third and had 13 turnovers in the second half (21 overall).
Panathinaikos will play on the road at FC Bayern Munich on Thursday, March 4. FC Barcelona will come home to welcome TD Systems Baskonia the day after.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021