Facing a 40-minute challenge from a confident Group C challenger, Panathinaikos used its defense to shake off a potential upset and hold onto a 72-67 victory against visiting Opel Skyliners in Athens on Wednesday. The Greens raised their record to 2-2 with the victory, while Opel fell to 1-3. Panathinaikos trailed at various points of the game but used great bench scoring to hold off the challenge. Among 46 points scored by Panathinaikos reserves, Darryl Middleton led the team with 14 points, while Nikos Hatzivrettas added 11, most of those in the crucial final quarter. Dimitris Diamantidis and Mike Batiste also scored 11 each, while Kostas Tsartsaris added 10 and 9 rebounds off the bench. Opel got another big scoring game from Tyrone Ellis, 21 points, but only 7 of those came after halftime. Pascal Roller added 11 for the winners, while Chris Williams scored 9 to go with 12 rebounds.
Opel began the game with the intention of running the court and taking advantage of any opportunity Panathinaikos might give them. For the first time in the season, Patrick Femerling started at center for the hosts, in order to match up with his compatriot, Robert Maras, but the Greens didn't show much concentration. A lot of Panathinaikos turnovers combined with offensive rebounds, fastbreaks and three-pointers by the Skyliners allowed the guests to race to a 6-18 advantage after 7 minutes. Ellis had already bagged 8 points, and now Greens coach Zeljko Obradovic called Middleton, Hatzivrettas and Tsartsaris on-court from the bench, but Opel continued playing perfectly on both ends, with some very effective zone defenses included. Mladjen Sljivancanin boosted the lead to a high of 10-23, while the end of the first quarter found the Skyliners holding a 12-23 edge.
Just 2 minutes into the second period, Maras was forced to leave the court with an injury and replaced by Bernd Kruel. Panathinaikos has already used 10 of 12 players, with Middleton once again serving as a steady force with 7 points in 6 minutes. The Greens tried a zone press defense, but Skyliners responded with good ball handling and passing. Opel coach Murat Didin kept up with his team's zone defense, which caused various problems to the hosts. After 15 minutes of play, the Skyliners still lead solidly, 17-25, but soon Panathinaikos started cutting the margin. Tracy Murray came off the bench now and made a three-pointer over the zone from the corner before Tsartsaris tied the game, 28-28, after 18 minutes. Then Murray stepped up again and dropped another big triple to give his team the lead for the first time, 31-29, a difference the Greens retained when the first half ended 33-31.
Panathinaikos opened the third quarter playing two point guards, Dimitris Diamantidis and Giorgos Kalaitzis, in an attempt to put the Skyliners under pressure and create fastbreaks. It paid off as a 9-2 run that boosted the lead to 40-33, but Opel did not surrender. In the span of a minute, Ellis hit an outstanding three-point shot, Pascal Roller scored and Spyros Panteliadis made a huge four-point play, good for a 0-11 Skyliners run to a new 40-44 lead for the guests. Roller was on fire and sank consecutive three-pointers to make the score 44-50 after 27 minutes . Panathinaikos cut the margin to 49-50, but Roller was ready again from the arc to preserve a 49-53 Skyliners lead that Ellis, with a dunk on the last play of the quarter, boosted to 7 points, 49-56.
The Skyliners kept their cool and concentration early in the fourth quarter as Panahinaikos tried to find the necessary spirit to recover. Finally, it was Diamantidis who scored a layup in penetration and added a free throw in a 6-0 streak that brought the Greens within 55-56. The battle was rekindled. Both teams went with three perimeter scorers and ballhandlers. Hatzivrettas struck first, dunking on a fastbreak to prolong the Panathinaikos run and retake the lead, 57-56. Back and forth it went from there. Williams got Skyliners within 63-61, Middleton dropped a jumper for 65-61, but Panteliadis bagged free throws for a 65-63 scoreboard. The game was headed for a thriller ending. Finally, Hatzivrettas emerged to decide it with 5 consecutive points that gave Panathinaikos a seven-point edge, 70-63. Ellis and Kruel answered to cut the difference to 70-67 with 32 seconds to go, but the Greens didn’t allow the guests to get any closer before registering their second win in Group C.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Vassilis Skountis, Athens