In terms of surviving in Group B, there was no place like home for Panathinaikos on Wednesday. With a killer display of shooting from deep, the Greens raced away from visiting Unicaja quite early and took an easy 91-67 victory that gave long-term hope to the local fans in Athens. Panathinaikos raised its record to 2-4 thanks to 12-for-24 three-point shooting. Unicaja, meanwhile, fell to 1-5 and a long way from contending in such a tough group. Nikos Hatzivrettas got the Greens started strong and finished with 22 points, 14 of which came in the first 13 minutes. Fragiskos Alvertis was next with 20 points, including 5 of 9 three-pointers. Kostas Tsartsaris added 13 points and Arriel McDonald 10 for the winners. For Unicaja, Louis Bullock scored 12 points, Carlos Cabezas 11, Frederic Weis and Walter Herrman 10 each.
In what was almost a "no-tomorrow" game for both teams, Panathinaikos showed from the very first moment the great dedication and concentration needed. Playing without injured forward Mike Batiste and without newly-signed but as-yet-unregistered center Haris Mujezinovic, the Greens tried to build a margin based on defense, the zone included. Unicaja appeared at the Patissia court without Stephane Risacher, home in Malaga with back problems, but managed to grab a 6-7 lead to start the game. Hatzivrettas was the early protagonist, holding key Unicaja forward Walter Herrmann down on defense, while scoring 8 among the first 15 points of Panathinaikos himself. At that point, the Greens led 15-11 and were in the middle of a 7-0 run that would them an eight-point lead, 19-11. Unicaja coach Sergio Scariolo send new troops to the floor, but with not enough time to make an impact, Panathinaikos kept riding behind Hatzivrettas to a 21-13 advantage after 10 minutes.
To start the second quarter, Unicaja switched to a zone defense with Fredereic Weis at the center. The French center scored 4 consecutive points to bring his team within 23-17, but Panathinaikos quickly adjusted to the zone and started hitting three-pointers. Hatzivrettas kept scoring until he had 14 of the first 27 points and then gave the leading role over to Alvertis. The captain of the Greens made a four-point play on a triple-plus-foul, good for a 31-19 Greens lead after 14 minutes. Playing with Alvertis as power forward in a short lineup and using some zone defense, Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic saw his team defend excellently and benefit with good transition offense. With Weis on the floor, the Greens were much faster and created a lot of fastbreak opportunities to bolted ahead 40-23 after 17 minutes thanks to another Alvertis bomb from downtown. Then came Herrmann's turn to show his potential. The Argentinean forward again found his path to the basket and Unicaja cut the margin to 42-30, but stalled there. Then, a few seconds before half ended, Arriel McDonald hit a three-pointer on a pick-and-roll play with Alvertis to reestablish a 16-point margin, 47-31, for the Greens at the break.
The three-point barrage continued after halftime as McDonald drilled another shot from 6.25 meters to give Panathinaikos its biggest lead yet, 49-31, while the visitors failed to rejoin the battle. When Weis returned to the floor, Obradovic surprised once again by using a 2-1-2 zone defense with Alvertis at the center and Tsartsaris at the wing to follow the French "tower". Bullock scored his very first basket after 27 minutes of play, for 57-44, but Panathinaikos didn't allow the visitors to get any closer. Alvertis hit another three-pointer a few seconds before the end of the third period and Panathinaikos soared to its first 20-point lead, 67-47, after 30 minutes.
Outstanding defense on one end and amazing percentages from three-point range helped Panathinaikos not only to keep its margin, but increase it in the fourth quarter. Alvertis and Hatzivrettas buried new triples for a 29-point lead, 79-50, and Darryl Middleton's free throw made it 30 points after 35 miutes. Unicaja continued to play zone defense, and Panathinaikos accepted a lot of open shot opportunities. Soon, Obradovic gave time to bench players such as Giannis Gagaloudis, Dusan Sakota and Artemis Kouvaris, but the scenario remained as it was. Giorgios Kalaitzis and Gagaloudis sink their own three-pointers for 91-64 before Bullock ended it with a triple for Unicaja. Panathinaikos was back in the Group B race with an unusually spectacular offensive show.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003