To close out 2004 in style, Panathinaikos gave itself the gift of a continuing share of second place in Group C by blowing out visiting Unicaja by 88-69 in Athens on Wednesday. The Greens are now 5-3 and assured a share of second place with Ulker. At the same time, the decision dropped Unicaja to 2-6, making its chances at the Top 16 that much longer. Unicaja led into the early part of the third quarter, when Jaka Lakovic took over gave the Greens double-digits leads to manage the rest of the way. Lakovic finished with 20 points, shooting 6 for 7 on two-pointers and 8 for 10 from the foul line. Tracy Murray added 13 points, including 3 triples, for the winners, while Dimitris Diamantidis and Fragiskos Alvertis put up 12 each. Mike Batiste contributed 9 points and 12 rebounds for Panathinaikos. Stephane Risacher led Unicaja with 15 points, while Jorge Garbajosa had 13 and Carlos Cabezas 11.
Panathinaikos pushed the gas from the beginning of the battle, doubling Unicaja's score to take an early 8-4 lead, all but 3 points coming from Tsartkaris. After a triple by Einikis Gintaras helped Unicaja, Lakovic added his second basket and Hatzivrettas a his own shot from the arc to boost the Greens ahead 13-7 midway through the quarter. Risacher, Fran Vazquez and Garbajosa reacted for Unicaja then, cutting the margin to 17-16. Tsartsaris, with a dunk, kept the visitors from taking the lead, and another big man, Patrick Femerling, scored from the line to assure Panathinaikos a 21-18 advantage after 10 minutes.
Just back from injury, Berni Rodriguez popped off the Unicaja bench for 2 baskets in a 0-6 run that catapulted the visitors to a 21-24 advantage early in the second quarter. With leadership from point guard Carlos Cabezas, who scored 9 points before halftime, Unicaja stretched its lead as wide as 7 points, 25-32, on a triple in the middle of the quarter by J.R. Bremer. Panathinaikos, who lost sharp shooter Vlado Scepanovic by then with a sprained ankle, brought in the veteran Alvertis, who calmed the team as a captain only can. He started by trading three-pointers with Walter Herrmann and had 7 points in the last 4 minutes of the quarter. Diamantidis added 4 himself in the last minute to bring Panathinaikos within a basket of Unicaja, 39-41, at halftime.
When the third quarter started, Unicaja frightened Panathinaikos even more, taking a 39-44 lead with an inside basket-plus-free throw by Garbajosa. But after that, the rest of the game belonged to the home team. Lakovic now imitated Alvertis, who had kept Panathinaikos alive during the second quarter. The point guard of the Greens started making all his shots or getting to the foul line and making the free throws until he had 14 points by himself in the third quarter. He got help in the form of big three-point shots from Giorgos Kalaitzis and Tracy Murray. The Panathinaikos defense did the rest, limiting Unicaja to 8 points after that early Garbajosa three-point play to completely turn the game around for a comfortable 62-52 lead after 30 minutes.
Panathinaikos never woke up from its good dream, nor did Unicaja from its nightmare in the fourth quarter. It started with Alvertis and Murray, two veteran shooters who know how to win, burying triples in an 8-0 run that put the difference out of Unicaja's reach at 70-52. The Greens kept pouring in the points until they led by 23 points, 86-63, late in the quarter on a Dusan Sakota triple. Risacher seemed to be alone for Unicaja in fighting cut the margin. Garbajosa struggled against the Panathinaikos defense, as did Bremer who finished the game stuck on 5 points. Murray topped off the performance with a dunk to send off the Panathinaikos fans with smiles for the holidays ahead.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens