It is not every day - or even every season or decade - that a team visits the house of Panathinaikos and owns the end of the game. CSKA Moscow, of course, is not just any team. After a duel of 37 minutes, CSKA put on a late-game 11-0 blitz on Thursday to take a 58-69 decision over the Greens. As such, CSKA remains undefeated at 4-0 in Group B and Panathinaikos faces an uphill climb from a 1-3 start. CSKA got a big finish from its big names: Marcus Brown, who scored 16 points; Mirsad Turkcan, who had a double-double of 13 points and 16 rebounds; and J.R. Holden, who had 11 points and 5 assists. The winners also got 2 huge three-pointers from unheralded Anton Yudin in those final minutes, just the sort of shots that Panathianikos, which had led all game, could not find for itself. The Greens, playing without injured big man Mike Batiste, got 11 points from Darryl Middleton and 10 from Arriel McDonald, but an inability to score in the final quarter, which finished 8-25 in CSKA's favor, lost the game Panathinaikos.
With basketball legend Larry Bird watching from the stands, the first quarter was a total blowout for Panathinaikos. With great balance between the perimeter players and the front line, the Greek champs dominated as they took an early 10-2 lead over CSKA Moscow. Power forward Kostas Tsartsaris was the leading scorer with 7 points and a perfect performance under the boards, but his aggressiveness got him in trouble as he was substituted after his third foul in 8 minutes. Fragiskos Alvertis hit some difficult shots as the Greens doubled the score of the Russian champs late in the quarter, with Giorgos Kalaitzis running the point guard position perfectly. On the other hand, CSKA was struggling offensively and only Holden managed to be dangerous, scoring 5 points for his team, while Turkcan had 4 points and was making his presence felt on the boards. Panathinaikos changed defenses constantly and at the end of 10 minutes boasted a 24-14 lead.
Of course, a proud team like CSKA was going to react. It didn't happen right away, in the second quarter. First, the Greens got 4 consecutive points from Dimitris Papanikolaou, playing against his ex-coach at Olympiacos, Dusan Ivkovic, to lead 26-16. But after getting back some points inside, CSKA erupted with a cascade of three-pointers, one each by Brown, Holden and Sergei Monya, that had the game tied 29-29 before Panathinaikos knew what had it it. After the tie, however, it was Arriel McDonald time. The veteran point guard was there when his team needed him and with 6 straight points, including a strike from downtown, he helped Panathinaikos enter the locker room with a close 36-32 lead over CSKA.
After halftime, with two of the top European coaches on either bench, the fans enjoyed quite a battle of strategy, especially on defense. It proved impossible for one team or the other to escape on the scoreboard. With 2 minutes remaining before the end of the third period, Panathinaikos was clinging to a 44-43 lead when veteran Darryl Middleton added a basket-plus-foul for the Greens and ex-CSKA player Nikos Hatzivrettas followed with a three-pointer to make it 50-43. That was saying a lot, considering that both Panathinaikos and CSKA played such similarly perfect zone defenses that no perimeter player had an easy shot. A six-point lead for Panathianaikos, 50-44, pointed to a very dramatic conclusion for two European powerhouses heading into the final quarter.
In the next 5 minutes, one thing became obvious: Panathinaikos was struggling offensively. The Greens managed just 2 points in that time frame as CSKA came all the way back to within 52-50. A McDonald jumper and 2 free throws by Jaka Lakovic seemed to give the Greens breathing room at 56-50, but the Russians were saving their best punch for last. Within the next minute, a pair of three-pointers by Anton Yudin and another by Turkcan put the visitors in the lead, and left Panathinaikos too stunned to react in so little time. In the next-to-last minute, Brown finished the Greens 5 straight points of his own, including another open three-pointer. Like that, CSKA had its fourth Group B victory without a loss and pushed Panathinaikos further down in the standings than it has been used to for a long time.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens