Reigning champion Panathinaikos blew a 17-point lead, but came back from a 4-point deficit with 15 seconds left to beat Unicaja Malaga 76-77 in a crucial road victory in Group B. Reigning Euroleague MVP Dimitris Diamantidis nailed 2 of his 7 three-pointers in the final 15 seconds to bring his team back from an apparent defeat with 23 points. Steven Smith and Romain Sato each scored 13 points as Panathinaikos improved to 4-2 in the group and avoided losing a third straight game. Luka Zoric helped Unicaja come back from a big hole with 21 points while Tremmell Darden scored 13 points and Kristaps Valters added 11 points. Unicaja’s leading scorer Joel Freeland came into the game averaging 13.6 points, but was held to just 1 point and 3 rebounds as he struggled with foul trouble. Unicaja dropped to 3-3 in the group with the loss.
Sato opened scoring with a jumper for Panathinaikos with Darden answered with a triple. Panathinaikos however started shooting from long range with Smith, Sato and Diamantidis nailing three-balls and Smith threw down a dunk for a 5-13 lead. Unicaja managed back-to-back baskets against the tough Panathinaikos defense to pull within 9-13. The reigning champs got Mike Batiste into the game with two baskets inside and Sato’s baseline jumper pushed the margin to 10 points – 9-19 and a Malaga timeout. The host side responded with a triple from Gerald Fitch but the Unicaja defense could not slow the Panathinaikos offense with Smith dunking over Nedzad Sinanovic for a three-point play and David Logan hitting a tough layup as the gap increased to 13-27. Sinanovic’s jump hook and two foul shots by Darden trimmed the deficit to 17-27 after one quarter.
Ian Vougioukas got the scoring going for Panathinaikos with an inside layup which was followed by a jumper by Logan and a long three-pointer by Diamantidis with the shot clock winding down for a 17-point cushion - 17-34. Hrvoje Peric finally scored for Unicaja after more than two minutes into the second quarter. And a jumper by Paul Blanco and a put-back by Jorge Garbajosa trimmed the margin to 23-35. Diamantidis and Valters swapped triples before Freeland left the game scoreless with three fouls with more than five minutes left in the first half. Zoric helped picked up Malaga’s game with a jumper and reverse layup before Blanco’s fast break layup brought the home team within 32-40. Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic wanted to talk to his men and Diamantidis nailed his fourth triple of the first half for a 32-43 lead. But the Unicaja run continued with six of six free throws by Zoric, Blanco and Garbajosa and a Zoric jumper in the lane before Valters’ three-pointer from the center circle off the backboard brought Unicaja within 43-45 at the break.
Zoric knotted the game with a jumper to make it 45-45 to open the second half. Diamantidis would not stand and watch, nailing a triple for Panathinaikos only to see Garbajosa answer right back with a three-ball for a 48-48 game. But Sato’s off-balance jumper was followed by a jumpshot by Sarunas Jasikevicius and an inside lay-in by Batiste for a 48-54 Panathinaikos advantage and a Unicaja timeout. Zoric split two free throws and which allowed Jasikevicius to increase the margin back to seven points, 51-58. The host side battled back on defense with a Fitch jumper and 4 foul shots by Darden and Valters and Unicaja trailed just 57-58 after three quarters.
Batiste’s basket began the scoring in the fourth before Freeland’s free throw with 9:16 left for his only point of the game. And then Darden grabbed a steal and tipped in a rebound to even the game again at 60-60. Smith however nailed a three-ball to keep Panathinaikos ahead 60-63. Garbajosa hit a turnaround jumper and then Zoric dunked over Aleks Maric to knot the game yet again 64-64. Logan made one free throw to push Panathinaikos back ahead by one and Unicaja missed five chances to take the lead and Vougioukas made two foul shots for a 64-67 lead. Following a Darden jumper, Berni Rodriguez made two free throws for a 68-67 Malaga lead – its first since it was 3-2. After Diamantidis and Zoric swapped a pair of free throws, Kostas Kaimakoglou missed a triple and Zoric nailed a jumper for a 72-69 lead with 1:17 to play. Vougioukas tipped in a rebound and blocked a shot at the other end. But Diamantidis missed a lay-up and Valters nailed a three-pointer with 15.4 seconds left for a 75-71 Unicaja lead. Diamantidis answered with a three of his own with 11.1 seconds and then Darden split two free throws for a 76-74 lead with 9.6 seconds left. Diamantidis continued his unbelievable shooting night with another triple with 1.3 seconds remaining from the left wing for a 76-77 advantage. And Unicaja could not get a shot off in the waning seconds.
Thursday, November 24, 2011