Montepaschi Siena trounced PAOK Thessaloniki
Montepaschi Siena proved that its strong regular season was no mirage by defeating dangerous PAOK 62-79 on the road in Thessaloniki, Greece, in the opener of their two-game eighthfinal series on Tuesday. When they go back to Siena, Italy, for the series finale in two weeks, Montepaschi will be able to advance to the quarterfinals as long as it does not lose by the same 17 points or more. Montepaschi did not trail in the entire game, but PAOK fought back from bigger first-half deficits to within 38-40 midway through the third quarter. Every time PAOK threatened, however, Joseph Forte was around to spark Montepaschi again. Forte led the winners with 25 points and 4 assists. Romain Sato added 15 points and Rimantas Kaukenas 14 off the bench. For PAOK, newly-signed Djuro Ostojic joined another big man, Drago Pasalic, in scoring 12 points each, while Feliks Kojadinovic hit 10 in a reserve role, but otherwise the Montepaschi defense shut down the hosts.
The game got underway with both teams looking a bit rusty on offense and going scoreless for a couple of minutes. Finally, Sato got the scoreboard rolling with a long jumper, only to be followed by Pasalic. While PAOK continued to struggle on the offensive end, having no rhythm, Siena was able to step on the gas and rush ahead 2-7, with Sato and Forte carrying the scoring load. Pasalic and Ioannis Kalambokis hit inside to make it a one-point game, yet Sato sank a three-pointer to keep Siena in charge. The visitors were shooting only 33% so far, however their defense smothered PAOK and allowed them to vault ahead 6-16. Coach Konstantinos Pilafidis was forced to call for a timeout in order to regroup his forces – now without scorer Vlado Scepanovic, who was injured. Accordingly, Darius Washington came off the bench to swish a huge triple that ended a 5-minute drought and pulled the hosts within 9-16 after 10 minutes. Kalambokis opened the second quarter flashing to the basket and then Washington scored on a layup to get his team and the crowd going, but Marco Carraretto nailed a three-pointer to widen the gap to 13-21. PAOK then found a go-to guy in Ostojic, who bullied his way inside to punish the guests’ frontcourt with 5 points that sparked a 7-0 run, as PAOK closed the gap with 6 minutes left. Lonny Baxter could not put a stop on Ostojic, yet Forte picked up the scoring slack for Siena and contributed 7 points, including an “in your face” triple that restored a 24-33 advantage for Siena. Even though PAOK continued to feed Ostojic, who had 3-of-4 from the line, Forte was unstoppable and slashed to the basket to give Siena a 27-35 advantage at halftime. PAOK was clearly struggling offensively, as indicated by the zero assists that its players had dished after 20 minutes of play and its three-point blues (1-out of-8).
The hosts came out determined to shake off a disappointing first half and wipe out the deficit. Jason Parker scored from beyond the arc and moments later Kalambokis stole the ball from Sato and fed Kojadinovic for an easy layup that capped a 7-0 spurt. Montepaschi coach Simone Pianigiani had no other choice but to call a timeout and soon Shaun Stonerook responded from downtown to silence the crowd. Pasalic bettered him with a four-point play to cut the lead to 38-40, but the guests got rolling from downtown and built a 38-46 lead behind three-pointers by Forte and Sato. PAOK did not yield and clawed its way back thanks to the duo of Kojadinovic and Pasalic. However the hosts cooled off in subsequent possessions, while on the other end Forte penetrated the defense to keep the hosts at bay. Moments later Sato connected on another triple to control the momentum. As a result, despite a triple by Dimitrios Verginis, Siena held a 48-54 with 10 minutes to go. Early on in the final quarter, Parker scored a free throw and a basket to keep PAOK hot on Siena’s heels. It would be short-lived though, as down the stretch the guests embarked on yet another three-point shooting display with Terrell McIntyre and Kaukenas to forge a double-digit lead, 51-62, with 6 minutes left. Coach Pilafidis urged his players to switch to a full-court press to ignite a much-needed comeback. Still, Forte was not willing to let the hosts come back and proved his dominance as he first knocked down a triple and then drove to the basket. PAOK failed to keep its composure and soon Siena stretched the gap to 56-72. Eventually, the guests were too good to be stunned by any late heroics and sailed to a resounding 62-79 victory that allows them to start thinking about the quarterfinals.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Danos Tsakalos, Thessaloniki