It was a very positive week for Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, which showed great character to win two games in front of its fans. Neither of those started well, but the Greens eventually managed to get both games to rank 6th overall with a 12-8 record, three games into playoffs territory – Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade ranks 9th at 9-11 – and only a couple of wins away from the all-important top four to claim home-court advantage in the next round.
Panathinaikos started the week by struggling against FC Bayern Munich but getting the job done. Despite a 19-2 start in favour of the host, Bayern rallied to take a 61-70 margin midway through the third quarter. But then DeShaun Thomas had 10 points in the final 15 minutes and Nick Calathes added 8, joining forces with Tyrese Rice to help Panathinaikos regain the lead and eventually get a 98-83 victory.
When Panathinaikos was in trouble against Zalgiris Kaunas on Friday, trailing 32-40 midway through the second quarter, the Greens needed to show resilience once again. Panathinaikos duly started to find answers on offense through Calathes and Georgios Papagiannis, but Zalgiris still led 46-49 at halftime, hitting 77.8% of its two-point shots and 50% three-pointers.
A change of mentality and finding a go-to guy were Panathinaikos's goals after the break. And the Greek giant certainly grabbed the focus and energy needed in the second half. Zalgiris went on to score only 8-of-18 two-point shots (44.4%) after the break, and offensive rebounds also made the difference - Panathinaikos grabbed 12 and only allowed Zalgiris to get 5.
The required go-to guy was Rice, who scored 8 points as soon as he came off the bench in the third quarter, singlehandedly making Panathinaikos go from 53-57 down to 61-59 up. The Greek powerhouse never trailed after that moment, and even led 89-78 with under 3 minutes left before Zalgiris fought back and almost got a chance to win the game at the buzzer.
Rice finished the game with 20 points and a PIR of 26, but Calathes's impact on the game was also tremendous, scoring 9 of his 14 points in the second half and adding 11 assists for the 38th double-double of this career. Calathes now ties Ioannis Bourousis for second place in most the double-doubles in the EuroLeague, only trailing Mirsad Turkcan, who got 50.
When the dust settled, Panathinaikos had managed to get another character-proving, coming-from-behind win with a lot of players contributing on offense – six scored in double digits – and solidifying its status as the highest-scoring team in the competition (89.0 ppg.). A year ago, coach Rick Pitino had just arrived (for the first time) and Panathinaikos ranked 12th overall with a 8-12 record. Now that win-loss record is reversed, to 12-8. The pride was always there, and now the Greens have earned the right to be ambitious again.