After losing all of a 14-point lead late in the third quarter, Panathinaikos hung on to its quarterfinal aspirations in Group F by defeating Zalgiris Kaunas 83-78 at home in Athens on Thursday. The victory pushed Panathinaikos to a 3-1 record and a tie for first place in Group F with Climamio Bologna. Zalgiris, playing without point guard Robert Pack and losing Tanoka Beard to fouls late in the game, dropped to 0-4 and is eliminated from quarterfinals playoff race. A steal in the closing seconds by Dimitris Diamantidis denied Zalgiris a game-tying final attempt and sealed the victory for the Greens. Fragiskos Alvertis, with 17 points, was best of five double-digits scorers for the winners. Mike Batiste added 15, Hatzivrettas 12, Jaka Lakovic 11 and Diamantidis 10 for the winners. Beard posted a double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds for Zalgiris. Darjus Lavrinovic and Ainars Bagatskis added 16 points apiece, Mindaugas Timinskas 14. Zalgiris rallied from 14 points down late in the third quarter to take a fourth-quarter lead, 69-71, on a three-point play by Lavrinovic, but Panathinaikos scored the next 10 points, including the fourth triple by Alvertis, to reassert control of the outcome.
Panathinaikos started the game at full speed, as consecutive shots by Vlado Scepanovic and Lakovic launched the hosts to a 5-0 lead. On the other hand, Zalgiris missed 3 open shots in a row and had to wait more than 3 minutes to score a first basket, a mid-range jumper by Paulius Jankunas. Panathinaikos kept firing strikes from beyond the arc, as Scepanovic and Mike Batiste added three-pointers to boost the Greens' lead to 11-4 midway through the quarter. The hosts continued at the same tempo as a nice alley-hoop by Batiste and free throws by Nikos Hatzivrettas extended the difference to double digits at 17-7. Kostas Tsartsaris nailed another couple from the foul line to complete a 8-0 run that made it 19-7 as Zalgiris had trouble setting up its offense without point guard Robert Pack, who stayed at Kaunas due to illness. Beard scored the last basket of the first quarter, but on the scoreboard Panathinaikos still dominated, 21-11, as Zalgiris had already suffered 9 turnovers.
The Greens stayed hot early in the second quarter, posting a new 7-0 run in which Alvertis shined with 5 consecutive points. Zalgiris answered back this time, however, as Beard and Salenga connected from the perimeter to bring the guests within 28-16. Lakovic took over with a four-point play for a 16-point Panathinaikos lead, 34-18, and then Alvertis blasted the home team's sixth three-pointer in 7 attempts to raise the difference to 37-20 midway through the quarter. Zalgiris was unable to score even from the free throw line, but at least found the way to stop Panathinaikos with a zone defense. The Greens went scoreless on 7 consecutive offensive possessions due to bad shot selection and turnovers. Zalgiris took advantage with a 0-8 run in which Bagatskis and Darjus Lavrinovic combined for all the points to cut the difference to 37-28. Hatzivrettas finally broke the guests' defense, but Bagatskis nailed 3 free throws for a 39-31 Zalgiris deficit. A two-handed dunk by Lonny Bakter and free throws by Alvertis gave the Greens some fresh air, but Bagatskis popped in another jumper to cut the margin to 44-35 at halftime.
The Greens opened the second half exactly as they had the first. Hatzivrettas and Alvertis nailed one triple each, interrupted by a basket from Beard as the Panathinaikos lead reached 50-37. Beard added another layup while Bagatskis chipped in a triple to cut it back to 50-42. Lakovic stepped up with a three-pointer, but after that both teams suffered more than 2 minutes without a basket before Batiste connected. Lavrinovic found a triple to keep Zalgiris close at 55-45. After Batiste dunked and Dimitris Papanikolaou hit a fadeaway, Timinskas popped his own triple to preserve the 10-point difference, 60-50. Diamantidis and Batiste boosted the lead back up to 14 points, at 64-50, before Zalgiris finished the quarter with a 0-7 run highlighted by a triple from Serapinas that brought the guests as close as 64-57 after 30 minutes.
The Zalgiris run continued into the fourth quarter with free throws by Beard, who soon added a basket that brought the visitors even closer, 65-61. Panathinaikos had made only 2 out of previous 8 free throws before Batiste broke the ice with a jump shot, but Lavrinovic answered in the paint for a 67-63 score. Then it was was time for Beard to explode for another 5 points, including his second triple in the game, making it a one-point game, 69-68, with 7 minutes to go. A two-minute scoreless stretch was finally broken when Lavrinovic's basket-plus-free throw completed the Zalgiris comeback with the first lead of the game for the visitors, 69-71. It didn't last. Diamantidis proved solid from the free-throw line to tie, and then Alvertis fired in his fourth shot from the arc to put Panathinaikos ahead again at 74-71. Diamantidis added a free throw, Alvertis drew Beard's fourth and fifth fouls, and then Tsartsaris scored twice to complete a 10-0 run that had the Greens in charge at 79-71. It wasn't over, though. Timinskas found back-to-back baskets in a 0-6 response that brought Zalgiris within 79-77 with 32 seconds to play. After a Panathinaikos miss, however, Vidas Ginevicius missed 1 of 2 free throws that could have tied the game. Lakovic did the same, upping the Panathinaikos lead to 80-78, but the last chance for Zalgiris ended up as a steal by Diamantidis that sent Hatzivrettas for an insurance basket-plus-free throw to end the game.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Stelios Kyriakoglou, Athens