Panathinaikos retained for itself a share of second place in Group C with just four regular season games left when it held off visiting Benetton Treviso 80-71 in Athens on Thursday night. The margin of victory also assured that Panathinaikos, whose record is now 6-4, would win any head-to-head tie at the end of the season with Benetton, 5-5 and alone in fourth place. Mike Batiste led the winners with 16 points, 14 of which came in the first half. Nikos Hatzivrettas added 15 points and Vlado Scepanovic 11, while Dimitris Diamantidis had 8 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals for Panathinaikos. Benetton got 15 points from Matteo Soragna, 14 from Pacellis Morlende, 11 from Marlon Garnett and 10 from Denis Marconato. The visitors weren't helped by yet another injury as point guard Massimo Bulleri only played 15 minutes after suffering a first-half knee injury.
In front of 5,000 spectators, Panathinaikos and Benetton began with the tipoff to show what a Euroleague showdown is all about. With defense expert Diamantidis on Massimo Bulleri and Dimitris Papanikolaou on Marlon Garnett, the Greens jumped ahead 6-1 and soared up to a13-7 lead with 5 players already having scored. But Benetton didn't stay down for long. As both coaches made a lot of changes to fresh their teams and Benetton switched to zone defense, Morlende led a 0-6 run to a 13-13 tie. Kostas Tsartsaris then reacted with 4 points to give Panathinaikos a 17-13 margine, but the visitors came right back with another 0-6 run capped by late layups from Soragna that tied the first quarter at 17-17 when it finished.
The second period started with Benetton's first lead, 17-19, on a layup from Denis Marconato, but then it was Panathinaikos turn to came up big. Thanks to the great defense, fastbreak opportunities and spectacular actions at both ends, the hosts made a 9-0 run that included 4 points each by Jaka Lakovic and Batiste to race ahead 26-19. Batiste dunked and sank a jumper then to open the gap to 31-23. Benetton found it difficult to score and the situation became more difficult when Tracey Murray popped a triple for the game's double-digit margin, 34-23. Soragna and Garnett gave oxygen to Benetton with consecutive three-pointers that cut the difference to 36-30, but Batiste was unstoppable. He took advantage of fine assists from Murray and Diamantidis to deliver spectacular dunks and seal a 40-32 Panathinaikos lead at halftime.
After the break, Panathinaikos resumed its trapping defense and Murray scored from the arc for a 43-35 scoreboard, but Benetton didn't give up and answered with another 0-6 run to within 43-41. As Benetton went back to a zone defense, Panathinaikos missed some shots and the visitors rallied even closer, 47-46, as Marcus Goree, Joey Beard and Morlende made unanswered baskets. Panathinaikos decided on a zone defense, too, but Agostino Li Vecchi punished it with a three-pointer to tie 49-49. But Panathinaikos found its defensive spirit again, and with it came a path to the basket in the form of an 8-1 quarter-ending run featuring 4 points each by Scepanovic and Patrick Femerling that left a 57-50 advantate to the home team 30 minutes.
Panathinaikos started the fourth quarter with three perimeter players, but it was the Tsartsaris who opened the lead to 59-50 with a three-pointer. The lead topped double digits at 62-52 after 32 minutes of play as Benetton tried to recover its inside game with Marconato and Goree. Soragna was able to pull the guests within 64-56, but the momentum of Panathinaikos took over the last 5 minutes. Hatzivrettas drilled an amazing triple for 67-56 and added free throws before a Lakovic layup and a triple by Diamantidis meant a 16-point margin, 74-58. Panathinaikos didn't let Benetton come much closer, as when Morlende hit a three-pointer for 75-65, Fragiskos Alvertis answered from the arc. The game turned to a fight for the point margin, as Panathinaikos had lost in Treviso by 6 points, and the Greens managed to do better than that now, just in case there are ties to decide between the two teams later.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Vassilis Skountis, Athens