Panathinaikos needed to battle for 45 intense minutes to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three quarterfinal series by edging Efes Pilsen 102-96 in overtime at home in Athens, Greece on Wednesday in one of the best games the Euroleague has witnessed this season. Panathinaikos has the chance to make it to the Final Four in Moscow if it beats Efes in Istanbul on Friday in Game 2. Meanwhile, Efes Pilsen needs to beat the Greens to force a third and decisive game which would take place in Athens on Thursday, April 14. Jaka Lakovic led the winners with 26 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer just before he fouled out in overtime. Vlado Scepanovic added 19 points, among them 4 key free throws after Lakovic's shot. Mike Batiste had 17 and Ibrahim Kutluay 14 for Panathinaikos. Henry Domercant led Efes Pilsen with 29 points and forced overtime with a follow-up layup on the fourth-quarter buzzer. Will Solomon added 25 points, Goran Nikolic 12 and Ender Arslan 10 for the guests. The teams shared 13 ties and 20 lead changes in the game, including ties at the end of each quarter except the third. They also committed 71 fouls between them, and Panathinaikos went to the foul line 57 times, a new Euroleague record for free throws attempted.
Mustapha Abi, back among the Efes starters the first time since early January, scored the only basket of the first 2 minutes, but then Batiste landed back-to-back shots for the first of many ties and lead changes to come. What looked like a sure low-scoring defensive battle was not to be, however. Domercant brought it to 4-5 for the visitors with an open jumper plus free throw. Kostas Tsartsaris finished a fastbreak for Panathinaikos and Lakovic added free throws as the Greens went up 8-5. Both defenses tightened on the perimeter, but even so Willie Solomon drilled an triple and Domercant chipped in free throws as Efes retook the lead 9-12. Both teams reached the foul limit early, leading to plenty points at the foul line. Among 6 free throws shared by their teams, Domercant and Lakovic scored the only two-point baskets during a couple minutes, after which Efes found itself ahead 15-17. When Niksa Prkacin added a layup to that lead, Vlado Scepanovic answered from the arc for Panathinaikos to tie 19-19. And after Nikolic hit a jumper, Scepanovic landed a fadeaway jumper on the buzzer to forge a 21-21 tie after 10 minutes.
The second period started with three baskets in the paint. Lakovic and Batiste scoring for Panathinaikos around a good pivot move by Prkacin. And when Nikolic chipped in free throws for Efes, it was tied again, 25-25. Nikolic soon gave Efes the lead back on a jumper, but Alvertis erased it with a swish from downtown. Back and forth it went on a layup by Ermal Kuqo and free throws by Lonny Baxter of Panathinaikos, which scored 7 in a row from the line. With 2 foul shots by Domercant and a big corner triple from Dusan Kecman, however, Efes had a 34-34 tie. The Greens kept relying on free throws, while Nikolic from the perimeter and later on Arslan from the line got Efes a 37-38 cushion. Former Efes player Ibrahim Kutluay exploded for 5 points in a row with a triple and free throws to establish what was a big lead in this game, 42-38 for Efes. Arslan chipped in a big three-pointer to silence the noisy home crowd before Panathinaikos built up five-point lead, 46-41, with more help from Baxter. Only a minute remained in the half, but that was enough for Nikolic to score free throws and Arslan to dribble and find a long triple from the top on the buzzer for the 10th tie of the game, 46-46.
Panathinaikos opened the second half with a 5-0 run punctuated by Scepanovic layup and Kutluay's triple after good ball movement. However, Efes responded perfectly; Solomon and Domercant connected from the arc to take a 51-52 edge. When Kutluay fired in his third triple, so did Solomon, and when Lakovic also hit from downtown, it was the game's sixth consecutive three-pointer, putting Panathinaikos back in front, 57-55. Efes took it back with Kaya Peker's free throw and a fasta-break dunk by Domercant. Batiste gave Panathinaikos the lead again with a jumper, and then Lakovic took over. His 4 points in a row one a free throw and then a triple allowed Panathinaikos run away a bit at 63-58 and its supporters go crazy a lot. But Domercant was again there to silence them with free throws of his own and a triple to end the third quarter with with Panathinaikos clinging to a 64-63 advantage.
After Batiste scored first in the final quarter, Panathinaikos refused to engage in any more ties or lead changes. Soon, his dunk off a great assist by Lakovic followed a layup by Tsartsaris that gave the Greens some air at 70-65. When Arslan made a shot in traffic to bring Efes within 71-69, Batiste was there for another shot inside, to which Scepanovic soon added a strike from the arc to push Panathinaikos ahead by 76-71. Tsartsaris grabbed an offensive rebound and made it 78-71 with 3 minutes left, which is when the free throw parade really got going. Solomon put in 3 foul shots before stepping up with a three-pointer to make it 82-77 going into the final minute. When no one else could take a clean shot, he landed one from outside and then drove for a layup to cut the lead to 83-81. A string of 9 free throws followed before Solomon found himself shooting another pair with Panathinaikos leading 88-86 and 3 seconds left on the clock. He made the first, missed the second on purpose, and after a rebounding battle, came up with the ball, but his jump hook in the paint ricocheted off the backboard. In the air, waiting for the rebound was Domercant, who banked in a put-back before the buzzer to send the teams to overtime tied 88-88.
After a nervous start to overtime, Domercant gave Efes its first lead since the opening half, 89-90, and Solomon upped it to 90-92 with free throws. After Scepanovic tied at the foul line, Prkacin made just 1 of 2, but Efes still led, 93-92. That's when Lakovic rose up and blasted the three-pointer that made it 95-93 with 90 second left. Even though Lakovic then fouled out, Panathinaikos would not trail again, although Solomon almost tied it with 2 free throws, though the second was cancelled when he was called for rushing into the lane too quickly after shooting it. A three-minute delay followed due to bottles being thrown near the Efes bench. When play resumed, Scepanovic took care of business with 4 consecutive free throws that made it 99-94, and as Solomon and Domercant committed turnovers on offence, Kutluay sealed the victory at 101-94 with 2 more free throws. There was not enough time left for another Efes comeback.
Wednesday, April 6, 2005