Panathinaikos booked their place in Sunday's Euroleague final with victory over over Siena in Barcelona. They will meet Maccabi Tel Aviv who coasted past Real Madrid 82-63.

MVP Twitter updates – Full schedule and guide

David Blatt’s side delivered a dominating and destructive defensive display in the second half. The Spaniards could not cope. Chuck Eidson was dazzling, value for every one of his game-high 19 points, 6 steals and 8 rebounds. Sofi Schortsantis was an immovable force. Pulling away in the fourth, Maccabi coasted into Sunday’s climax.

"Defensively, you can’t ask for a better ball game,” said Eidson. “Before everything, I would have been pretty happy limiting Madrid to 63 points. But they are a great team, don’t let anybody fool you. Top four in Europe, so we have to feel proud. I tried to take what they gave me, and today I took care of my opportunities. When you have Sofo in there sometimes, they have to collapse and things happen for you.” 

For a while in the opening exchanges, Madrid’s young team matched their rivals blow for blow in an arena which the Israelis had turned into a home from home with their fans on all sides, planeloads arriving in quick succession to populate the city.

Their drums beat incessantly, just like their chanting when, building on 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, Maccabi used an 8-2 run to grab the initiative.

The Spaniards pulled themselves together and rebounded. Felipe Reyes capped a 7-0 flurry which levelled at 24-24 with 5.33 left in the first half. Richard Hendrix hit consecutive field goals to push Maccabi back in front. To and fro it went again until Schortsantis, Blatt’s reclamation project, delivered a 32-29 half-time advantage to the men from Tel Aviv.

Momentum was in their favour. And so it remained despite some dogged tenacity from Madrid. Just when it seems Maccabi might pull away, Pablo Prignioni and Carlos Suarez hit successive three-pointers to cut the deficit to 43-41 midway through the third.

Blatt screamed loudly. His players listened. Hendrix capped a 6-0 run. Then Tal Burstein stole an inbounds pass and dunked to push the Tel Aviv lead into double figures for the first time.

Ante Tomic – who would claim a team-high 17 points – hit two quick scores to break the spell. However with a 55-47 cushion headed into the fourth, Madrid had everything to do to merely stay in sight. Their youthful group may have its day. Just not yet. Maccabi’s experience was too much to handle. So was their defensive pressure. And Jeremy Pargo, in tandem with Eidson, capitalised.

"Chuck helped us a lot in the late third and early third quarters with some big three pointers and shot the game wide open," said Schortsantis. 

"After that, we took over. Jeremy is the kind of guy that you never know what’s going to happen when he start playing. He’s doing a great job and I believe that, right now, he is the best one-on-one player in Europe. The way he plays is amazing and he allows me and other player to get free shots. But in our team, everybody works, everybody plays and that’s what’s gotten us this far."

And got them past Real with an emphatic flourish. The dam burst with a sparkling 11-2 run which took the Yellows 71-51 clear, out of reach and on their way to a 14th continental final and a first since 2005. 

Athens finest now stand in their way of a possible fifth European crown. Following this display, the Greeks would do well to be on their guard.

For Madrid, there is now only third place to aim at.

"We have to try to be positive, like we did all season, and focus on the Spanish League once we get back home,” said Suarez. “I think this experience will have us in future Final Four appearances. I believe that this team will come back to the Final Four. We must look forward — we did good things and this has been an experience for all of us.

"We paid a high price for our lack of experience but we will come back stronger in the future. Their physical level was much higher than ours, especially in the second half. Again, we have to learn from this and try to increase our physical level right away in the third-place game."

Pana grind out semi victory

Panathinaikos earned the opportunity to chase a sixth European title on Sunday after they despatched Montepaschi Siena 77-69 in the first semi-final in Barcelona.

The Greeks were wayward, ragged at times and short of their best. However the put some early struggles behind them and – paced by 17 points from Nick Calathes – had just too much guile and power for the Italians to overcome.

The odds-on favourites remain. But they will want better against Maccabi.

"It’s always difficult to play in a game like this against Siena, first because they are a good aggressive team,” said Pana head coach Zeljko Obradovic. “We tried to start without any pressure and we turned the ball over 5 times in the first five minutes. After that we played well. We also had a problem with the defensive rebounds.

"We talked about this and we talked about boxing out better and to run after the rebounds. We played better in third quarter, but we didn’t score well. We took the advantage and I had experienced players that knew to play in this situation. In the fourth we knew what to expect and handled their zone press.“ 

With Ksistof Lavrinovic hitting all of his 7 points in the first quarter, Siena emerged with energy amid the din from the sea of jumping, screaming Athenian fans, holding the presumed title certainties in check. Down 15-10 after five minutes, the 2009 champions were incensed when Dimitris Diamantidis converted a field goal to level, only for it to be waved off when Mike Baptiste was called for an offensive foul as he hustled underneath.

Their sense of injustice grew further when Nikos Zisis buried a three-pointer on the buzzer to put Siena 22-17 in front, the referees studying the TV replay intently before adjudging its validity.

Defensively, the Italians were smoothing their path. The Greeks were ragged. Ex-Siena star Romain Sato lost his cool, elbowing Marco Carraretto to pick up an unsportsmanlike foul. Obradovic scowled. This was not in his plans.  Offensively, each team was doing its best to deceive.

Bo McCalebb’s three point play extended Siena’s cushion to 30-24 with four minutes left in the second but there were signs that Panathinaikos was finding its rhythm. Antonis Fotsis and Stratos Pereroglu hit consecutive three pointers which took their side 35-32 ahead and had 3000 supporters bouncing with glee.

Going 1-for-9 from three point range in the first half didn’t help Siena. Neither did the foul count which confined their bigs to the bench. Pana’s depth is a strength. And there was a sense the Greeks had survived the worst of the storm. Leading 40-36 at half-time, Obradovic plotted a quick painless execution.

The Italians suffered a self-inflicted blow when Lavrinovic picked up his fourth foul early in the third period. Their opponents profited. Batiste hit a jumper while left unguarded and then went to the foul line with 2:50 left in the quarter, making both attempts to increase his team’s cushion to 49-38.

Even Siena’s open shots found only the rim. Marko Jaric, once an NBA player in his pomp, was scoreless in his 15 minutes. David Moss was not rolling like he had done en route to the Final Four. Trailing 56-47 entering the fourth, they held on by their fingertips but their grip was on the brink of slipping away.

"We didn't play well for all 40 minutes," lamented Zisis. "We had 5 minutes in this game where we completely lost our rhythm on offense. We also made a lot of defensive mistakes."

When Diamantidis buried a shot from long range with eight minutes left, it only served to encourage the Athenian choir to sing with one voice. There was a sense that Pana’s work was done. Steadfastly they resisted Siena’s brave attempts to forge a way back.

Lavrinovic picked up his fifth. Simone Piagnini, his coach, stood with hands on hips, unhappy at the way his side had suffered from the referees. "Panathinaikos defended aggressively," he declared. "They made that choice." Four times a losing semi-finallist, there was little he could do but pray for a collapse. His team’s defence, so excellent early, had become a glaring weakness. With a team-high of just 13 points from Rimantas Kaukenas, there was no electrifying force.

In a time-out with 1.52 remaining, Piagnini urged one last great push but it was, quite simply, too much to ask. 

He will have to wait for his first finale. "We couldn't take that final step," he said. "It has been not a beautiful game but I believe we have done our best. I'm sorry because in the beginning we showed we were ready and up to the expectations but this is the result."

Obradovic, with confidence, heads into his ninth.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • MySpace
  • Print

You must be logged in to post a comment Login