The need for a third victory in Group C took two teams with high aspirations into overtime on Wednesday before Panathinaikos outlasted visiting Tau Ceramica 99-95 in Athens. The victory left Panathinaikos with at least a share of third place at 3-2. Tau fell to 2-3, good either for fourth or fifth place depending on other results. Veteran shooter Vlado Scepanovic was the man of the match for Panathinaikos, scoring 7 of his floor-high 25 points in overtime. Five other Greens reached double figures, including Nikos Hatzivrettas and Mike Batiste with 13 each, Dimitris Diamantidis, Kostas Tsartsaris and Jaka Lakovic with 12 each. Tsartsaris added 10 rebounds for a double-double. For Tau, Kornel David and Arvydas Macijauskas pumped in 22 points each. Robert Conley, whose triple sent the game to overtime, finished with 18 and Luis Scola 10.
Tau started the battle trying to get an early jump on Panathinaikos and did so. After Scepanovic got going for the hosts, Scola scored 2 early baskets before small forward Robert Conley, making his first start for the guests, scored on a basket-plus-foul to give Tau a six-point lead, 6-12, midway through the opening quarter. Calderon was soon putting in his second shot, a three-pointer, too boost Tau's lead to 8-15. That, however, is when the Greens woke up, cutting the deficit to 16-17 at the end of the quarter as Tsartsaris and Darryl Middleton scored inside.
Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic called on forward Tracy Murray to start the second quarter, and he changed the game with consecutive three-pointers that helped Panathinaikos escape to a 25-20 advantage. Calderon answered with his own triple to keep Tau in touch with the Greens. Jaka Lakovic and Nikos Hatzivrettas scored next to push Panathinaikos further ahead, 29-23, but Tau center Andrew Betts stepped up then and caused the hosts trouble with consecutive inside baskets, cutting the margin to a point, 29-28, after 15 minutes. Panathinaikos then tightened its defense as Batiste exploded for 7 consecutive points in less than a minute on a dunk-triple-dunk combination. When Lakovic added a free throw, the Greens had their biggest lead, 37-28, after 17 minutes. Tau needed help, and Macijauskas provided it with his extraordinary offensive talent, scoring 7 points before the first half finished with Panathinaikos still in charge at 46-40.
Scepanovic continued scoring after halftime, nailing 2 more three-pointers to boost Panathinaikos to a 53-44 lead. The lead would hit a high of 60-48 on a short jumper by Middleton, but the game was far from over. Tau had a different idea and took control of the game at that moment. Conley got the comeback going with a shot from downtown, then he and David shared all the points in a 1-13 run that tied the game 61-61. The man who put Tau over the top with a shot from the arc was Pablo Prigioni, finishing a 1-16 run that left the visitors in front, 63-64, after 30 minutes.
After Diamantidis dunked to give Panathinaikos the lead back, Tau became even more dangerous early in the final quarter, racing to a 70-78 advantage as Scola rejoined the offense with 6 points. Nevertheless, Hatzivrettas and Diamantidis were there with triples to keep Panathinaikos alive, 77-80, with 4 minutes to go. David scored to give Tau a five point lead, 77-82, with under 2 minutes to go, but Tsartsaris and Hatzivrettas joined forces to score 8 consecutive points that almost gave Panathinaikos the game in regulation time. The Greens were ahead 85-82 when Conley raised up an buried a three-pointer to tie it up with 40 seconds left in regulation time. Lakovic missed as time expired and the two teams went to overtime tied 85-85.
In the extra period, the battle was decided at the very last moment, with foul shots playing the role of a Russian roulette. Scepanovic scored 7 points himself, including a triple and the foul shots that put the Greens ahead 97-94. When Macijauskas made only 1 of 2 for Tau, Lakovic made sure of his own 2 free throws to put his mark on a key Group C victory, 99-95, for the Greens.
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens