Four EuroLeague giants - FC Barcelona, Montepaschi Siena, Benetton Treviso and Panathinaikos Athens - battled for one Final Four spot in Group F of the 2003-04 Top 16, the last season without playoffs. After three rounds, Barcelona and Benetton had 2-1 records with Panathinaikos and Montepaschi right behind at 1-2. The game between Benetton and Panathinaikos at PalaVerde on this date in 2004 would be a pivotal one; Panathinaikos won 82-75 when they met at OAKA and every point mattered. There were a lot of points in this Round 4 contest as both teams went over the 100-point mark in an overtime thriller that was one of the best games of the season, full of stellar individual performances and a lot of drama.
Garbajosa saves the day
The game was an outstanding back-and-forth battle. Panathinaikos hit first, as Jaka Lakovic and Fragiskos Alvertis fueled a Greens' burst to fora 19-27 lead. Darryl Middleton soon gave Panathinaikos its first double-digit lead, 32-42. Maurice Evans tried to change things for Benetton, but Lakovic kept Panathinaikos ahead 43-50 at halftime. Jorge Garbajosa and Massimo Bulleri closed the gap to 52-54 soon after the break, but Lakovic kept pushing the Greens and gave his team an 81-87 lead with 3 minutes left. Evans brought Benetton within 87-90 with 11 seconds remaining. Panathinaikos fouled Tyus Edney, who missed his second attempt on purpose. Benetton pulled in 3 offensive rebounds in succession until finally a short shot from Garbajosa fell through for a 90-90 tie. Once in overtime, Evans and Denis Marconato made sure Benetton captured a critical win and the tiebreak advantage, too.
Remarkable individual performances
When the dust settled, the statistics were full of big numbers. Evans had a career-high 33 points to lead Benetton. Marconato had a monster double-double with 20 points and a personal-best 17 rebounds. Garbajosa tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds. All of them had PIRs of 30 or higher - Marconato 34, Evans 31, Garbajosa 30, which has not happened since. It happened twice before this game, however: Zadar in a win against Lugano Snakes on December 7, 2000 (Darko Krunic 39, Davor Pejcinovic 38 and Patrick Baldwin 32) and Telindus Oostende in a win against Partizan Belgrade on December 13, 2001 (Andrius Giedraitis 43, Ralph Biggs 39, Ed Cota 31). For Panathinaikos, Jaka Lakovic had 36 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 14 fouls drawn and a PIR of 51, which is the sixth-highest in competition history. Lakovic had previously recorded an even higher PIR (55) with Krka Novo Mesto against Real Madrid on October 18, 2001.
More about the game
Benetton outrebounded Panathinaikos 40-30, including 16 offensive boards and allowed the Greens just 9. That led to Benetton making 36 two-point shots, a club record that still stands and a EuroLeague season-high. None was more important than Garbajosa's put-back shot to force overtime. Two more Benetton players scored in double digits - Edney had 18 points and Marcelo Nicola 10. Middleton and Kostas Tsartsaris each added 14 while Arriel McDonald scored 11 for Panathinaikos.
What happened next
In the end, neither Panathinaikos nor Benetton made it to the Final Four. Montepaschi qualified from Group F by winning its last three games. It defeated Benetton 80-64 in Siena to claim the tiebreaker and topped Panathinaikos 77-86 in Athens. Bootsy Thornton led Montepaschi in both games with 19 and 22 points, respectively. Montepaschi lost against Skipper Bologna in the semifinals in Tel Aviv, 102-103, in an instant classic. In the championship game, Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv overwhelmed Skipper 118-74 to conquer its first EuroLeague title since 1981. Anthony Parker was chosen as the 2004 Final Four MVP. Lakovic had to wait a bit to get his first EuroLeague title; he lifted the trophy with FC Barcelona in 2010. Evans, Marconato and Garbajosa never got that chance.