Defending champion Panathianikos of Greece turned back an attempted ambush by Unicaja and the Greens' former coach, Bozidar Malkovic, to win their second straight game in Group B 77-65 in Athens on Thursday. The visitors had managed to turn around the scoreboard in the third quarter, by Panathinaikos responded in kind and won going away to raise its record to 4-2. Unicaja fell to 3-3 for at least a piece of fourth place going into the break for national team play. Ibrahim Kutluay led the reaction for the Greens late in the third quarter and finished with a team-high 15 points. Rodney Buford and Antonis Fotsis chipped in 12 each. For Unicaja, Milan Gurovic and Louis Bullock put up 16 points each, and Stephane Risacher 14 in what was largely a defensive-minded game.
Before the tipoff, Panathinaikos honored to its former coach, Bozidar Maljkovic of Unicaja, for his role in leading the Greens to their first European title in 1996. On behalf of the owner of Panathinaikos, Paul Giannakopoulos, manager Manos Papadopoulos offered to Maljkovic a clutch of flowers while nearly 1,700 fans gave him a standing ovation. To start the game, Panathinaikos tried to go right inside to Lazaros Papadopoulos in his first start this season. That system allowed Papadopoulos to be aggressive against Charles Kornegay, both in defense and offense. The Greens found a couple of good opportunities to shot from the perimeter, and Frangiskos Alvertis and Fotsis obliged by sinking three-pointers for an ealy 9-2 Panathinaikos lead. Then it was the turn of Gurovic turn to impress old fans who had seen him in the past, the same as they had seen his teammates Stefan Risacher, Adam Wojcik and Frederic Weis. Gurovic sank 3 of 4 three-pointers in a matter of minutes and, like that, Unicaja cut the deficit to 18-13 after 9 minutes. Panathinaikos finished the quarter ahead 19-15, with Papadopoulos and Fotsis on 5 points each while Gurovic was up to 9 despite the fact that Maljkovic had already used the same amount of players.
To start the next quarter, Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic made some changes in his lineup, bringing on Rodney Buford and Darryll Middleton, who helped Panathinaikos extend the margin to double digits. Unicaja tried, but nothing worked againts the tight Panathinaikos defense. The Spanish team took a lot of bad shots as Fotsis took the challenge to defend Gurovic after his hot first quarter. Buford hit a jumber for a 10-point lead, 28-18, after 14 minutes. Soon Kutluay was sinking a three for a 14-point margin, 33-19, as everything looked easy for the Greens. One key tactic at that point was Buford taking advantage of a size mismatch against Louis Bullock by posting up. Thanks to that, with Panathinaikos still ahead 35-21, Maljkovic called for a zone, to which Obradovic responded by using twin point guards in Giorgos Kalaitzis and Arriel Mc Donald. Panathinaikos had a lot of motion, good shot options and some fast break opportunities against the zone, so the margin stayed up to 10 points. At the end of the first half, Panathinaikos was leading 40-29 with Fotsis having scored 9 points, the same total as Gurovic still had for Unicaja.
After halftime, things changed. Unicaja came up big both on defense and offense, where Bullock found his way, penetrating for layups kicking out passes to his shooters. It added up to a stunning Unicaja run of 18-2, good enough not only to cut the margin,but to take the lead, 43-44, after 25 minutes. The game had dramatically changed, but Obradovic didn't panic. He immediately called on Jaka Lakovic at point guard and subbed Kostas Tsartsaris instead of Fotsis, who had missed several shots. Panathinaikos made a counterrun of 8-0 for a 51-44 lead, but Unicaja refused to surrender. They gave their own answer, 0-9 in less than 2 minutes, to lead 51-53 at the end of three quarters. Unicaja's 24 points in the third quarter were only 5 fewer than the visitors managed in the whole first half.
To begin the last quarter, Maljkovic returned to his zone defense, challenging Panathinaikos to make outside shots. Unicaja managed to slow the tempo and to lead once again, 53-55, thanks to a basket inside by Kornegay. Tsartsaris gave his place to Kutluay, as the Greens tried to play with Buford as power forward, which helped them to make a 7-0 run and regain the lead at 60-55. Kutluay scored 6 consecutive points, including a big three-pointer against the zone and basket-plus-foul against the individual defense. Then he added 2-for-2 free throws for a nine-point lead, 69-60, just 3 minutes before the end. Panathinaikos then grabbed all the rebounds it needed to run to keep its lead. The margin once again reached double digits at 71-60, so Panathinaikos didn't face any serious problems to register the victory.
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
Vassilis Skountis, Athens