Panathinaikos reaches Euroleague playoffs

By George Georgakopoulos

Panathinaikos defeated Unicaja Malaga 69-60 on Thursday in Athens and is assured of a spot in the Euroleague quarterfinals with one more game left to play in the second group stage of the competition.

The Greek champion denied any aspirations the visitors might have had for a win that would have kept them in the running for a spot in the play-offs, by dominating the game from start to finish despite the odd problems in defense and attack in the first half.

Boosted by at least 15,000 fans at the Olympia Sports Hall Panathinaikos showed the resolve required in a must-win game such as this and illustrated it had the energy to shake off the pressure from the significance of the match.

Malaga seemed mesmerized at times by the host who led 33-28 at half time and stretched its lead to as many as 17 points in the second half (60-43) thanks to its tight defence in the third period, before strolling to the end of the game with a precious win in its collective hands.

Captain Dimitris Diamantidis scored 13 points and Stephane Lasme another 10, as Panathinaikos had 11 players on its scoresheet.

If in the last round of games Panathinaikos beats Olympiakos in Piraeus next week it will finish third, and if it loses it will probably end up fourth. In either case it will face one of Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow without home advantage in the best-of-five play-offs.