A thriller finish in a killer group saw Panathinaikos preserve its undefeated record and deny host Montepaschi the same by winning their duel 78-82 on Wednesday in Siena, Italy. Down by 4 points, 77-73, in the final minute, the Greens did everything right down the stretch to soar toa 3-0 record in Group C. Montepaschi lost its first of the season and fell to 2-1. Jaka Lakovic led the Greens with 13 points, 7 of those near the end, including a foul shot and go-ahead layup with under 25 seconds left. Dimitris Diamantidis followed with 12 points and blocked Montepaschi's attempt to tie at the buzzer, changing another game with his defense. Mike Batiste added 12 points for the winners, Kostas Tsartsaris 11 and Vassilis Spanoulis 10. For Montepaschi, Duane Woodward put up 17 points, most of them in the second half, while teenager Luigi Datome added 15 to lead the hosts back from big early deficits.
Batiste opened the scoring from the paint and Diamantidis fed Kostas Tsartsaris for a driving dunk as Panathinaikos burst in front 0-4. Free throws by Benjamin Eze started Montepaschi's scoring, but with a jumper by Diamantidis and free throws by Lakovic, the Greens pushed ahead 2-10. Woodward's free throw gave Montepasch its first point in 4 minutes, while Panathinaikos found easy scoring combinations. At last, Rimantas Kaukenas gave the hosts their first basket, but as if to show it was always a step ahead of its rival, Panathinaikos responded with 5 straight points, including a triple by Nikos Hatzivrettas, for a 5-19 score. The Greens defended hard inside and Montepaschi didn't missed its long-range shots, forcing home coach Carlo Recalcati to call timeout. He put in teenager Luigi Datome, who gave life to his team with 5 straight points on a triple and a dunk that helped trim the Panathinaikos advantage to 16-26 after 10 minutes.
Montepaschi carried its momentum into the second quarter as Marcelo Nicola hit a jumper and Justin Hamilton added free throws to make it 20-26. After some more good defense by the hosts, Nicola drained a triple to cap a 7-0 run to a 23-26 score. Dejan Tomasevic stopped the slide for Panathinaikos with a layup but Datome was on fire, scoring again to make it 25-28. Spanoulis kept the Greens but Datome blasted another three to give himself 10 points and pull Montepaschi within 28-30. Fragiskos Alvertis forced a foul by Shaun Stonerook and hit both free throws, the joined Batiste in boosting the Panathinaikos advantage to 30-38. Eze hit a bucket and on the following play blocked a shot by Spanoulis, but twisted his ankle on the play, which left 32-38 on the board at halftime.
Datome was also protagonist after the break, starting with his third shot from downtown, but Tsartsaris and Batiste kept the Greens ahead, 39-45. Woodward answered with 5 points to put Montepaschi as close as one point, and then Datome fed Roberto Chiacig inside for the hosts' first lead all night, 46-45. Montepaschi's defense improved, too, forcing Panathinaikos turnovers, but a free throw by Spanoulis and a three-point play by Tomasevic restored a 46-49 advantage for the guests. Rimantas Kaukenas became a protagonist now, hitting 4 straight points for Montepaschi, but Spanoulis buried an open triple from the corner to keep Panathinaikos in front, 50-52. The Greens had the patience to find an open shot for Spanoulis again, but Mindaugas Zukauskas also found a triple to close the third quarter and pull Montepaschi within 55-56.
A triple by Dimitris Papanikolaou boosted the Greens to a four-point lead, 57-61, early in the final quarter. Nerves showed as both teams committed turnovers, but the veteran Alvertis proved exempt from nervousness as he nailed a new triple from the left wing that made it 57-64. The PalaMensSana crowd got going when Montepaschi responded with a 5-0 run highlighted by a three-point play from Andrea Pecile that made it 62-64. On the other end, Spanoulis exploded for a drive that gave Panathinaikos breathing room, even though Woodward scored underneath in response. Shaun Stonerook's first points came at the foul line and Woodward, on fire, bagged a huge triple and a follow-up basket that gave a Montepaschi its biggest lead of the game, 69-66, with less than 4 minutes left. Panathinaikos now survived on free throws, but Datome's basket off an offensive rebound kept the hosts ahead and Zukauskas widened the gap to 75-69 with a layup. But now came Lakovic's time. He sank 2 free throws among 4 straight points to get the Greens within 75-73. With a minute left, Nicola found a basket for 77-73 but Diamantidis was huge with a basket-plus-free throw to make it 77-76 with 30 seconds left. Hatzivrettas fouled Hamilton, who hit 1 of 2 free throws, and then it was now Lakovic's turn at the foul line. He made the first, missed the second, but Kostas Tsartsaris tipped the rebound to him and Lakovic took it in for a go-ahead layup, 78-79. When Hamilton missed for Montepaschi, Hatzivrettas added a free throw for the Greens. Montepaschi had a final possession to tie or win, but when Pecile slashed to the basket, Diamantidis blocked the shot, got the rebound and was fouled, making both shots to seal a huge victory for Panathinaikos.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005