Panathinaikos capped a stellar regular season by assuring that it will head a group in the Top 16 after rolling over visiting Pau-Orthez 94-62 in Group C on Wednesday. The Greens improved to 11-2 and will finish with no worse than the best second-place record of the regular season. The three group winners and best second-place team head Top 16 groups and thereby avoid each other in the next round. Pau fell to 4-9 and was virtually eliminated as either Ulker or Montepaschi will now finish with 5 victories. Both hold tiebreak advantages over Pau. Jaka Lakovic was the catalyst again for Panathinaikos, with 22 points, including 4 three-pointers. Dimitris Diamantidis followed with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Dimitris Papanikolau added 12 points, Fragiskos Alvertis 11 and Vasilis Spanoulis 10 for the winners. The Panathinaikos defense did the rest, allowing only T.J. Lux with 14 points and Jeff Varem with 11 to reach double digits for Pau.
The game got underway with Panathinaikos bursting ahead 6-3 behind a pair of free throws and a drive by Nikos Hatzivrettas. Artur Drozdov connected from the arc for Pau to make it 7-6, but Lakovic copied his triple at the other end to ignite an 8-0 Panathinaikos run that was capped when Diamantidis scored on a drive. Jeff Varem hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 15-8, yet Panathinaikos took a 13-0 run for a 28-8 lead with two minutes left. Diamantidis was a big factor, as he scored 9 points during the spurt. Pau-Orthez tried to bounce back with Brooks Sales as its go-to-guy. However, the guests were only able to pull within 30-13 at the end of the quarter.
To start the second quarter, Kostas Tsartsaris gave Panathinaikos a 32-13 lead. Pau-Orthez was not willing to give up without a fight though, and clawed its way back. Panathinaikos was kept scoreless for more than 3 minutes as the guests tightened their defense. On offense, Xane D’Almeida and T.J. Lux entered and contributed 4 points each as Pau-Orthez trimmed the lead to 32-24. Panathinaikos did finally break the ice as Lakovic - who else? - drained a jumper plus a downtown bomb to boost the margin to 37-24. Lux answered on a follow, but Lakovic was clearly on fire. He first knocked down a jumper and then continued his three-point display with his fourth triple for a 48-30 Panathinaikos edge at intermission.
The second half commenced with Loonie Cooper firing in a triple for the guests. Baskets by Rupert and Drozdov then allowed Pau-Orthez to shave the difference to 51-37. Panathinaikos didn't need more time to respond. Batiste finished the fastbreak with authority and then Lakovic nailed a jumper to vault Panathinaikos ahead 56-40. Then, captain Fragiskos Alvertis drilled one from beyond the arc and the lead soared to 61-42. When defensive specialist Diamantidis returned, the hosts swarmed and Pau-Orthez was held without a basket for the last 4:36 of the third quarter. Behind another triple by Alvertis, Panathinaikos led 66-43 after 30 minutes.
The fourth quarter saw the Panathinaikos reserves attacking at full speed. Vasilis Spanoulis scored on the break then fed Dusan Sakota for a layup. Panthinaikos breezed to a 72-45 lead mainly because Pau-Orthez struggled on perimeter defense. Lux scored his second basket of the quarter to make it 76-47 but Sakota put on a shooting show of his own and set an 81-48 score, the biggest so far. Dimitris Papanikolaou embarked on a spree of 3 consecutive triples and a mid-range jumper that widened the lead to 94-58 and made quite clear why the Greens march confidently into the Top 16 as a group leader.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Danos Tsakalos, Athens