SPORTS

Panathinaikos is the new European basketball champion

By George Georgakopoulos

Panathinaikos won its sixth Euroleague trophy after defeating Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv 78-70 in the final at Barcelona on May 8.

The Greek club, by far Europe?s most successful in the last 20 years, won its third European crown in the last five years.

Throughout the match Panathinaikos was the better team, thanks both to its strength under the basket and its diverse attacking strategies that destroyed the Tel Aviv club?s zone defense.

Such was the defensive might of Panathinaikos that it managed to contain Maccabi to just 70 points, down from an average of over 80 points in this season's Euroleague.

The Greens led from the start, stretching their advantage to seven points at the end of the first period (22-15), forcing Maccabi's Greek star Sofoklis Schortsianitis to concede two early fouls and get substituted.

The effective combination of Antonis Fotsis with Mike Batiste or Aleks Maric under the basket prevented a series of Maccabi shots, frustrating the Israelis, who at one point in the first half had made no more than just one of 13 two-point shots.

In the second period, Maccabi came back to threaten Panathinaikos thanks to its great rate in three-pointers (four our of seven at one point in the first half), but the reigning Greek and new European champion regained the upper hand to end the first half with a three-point advantage (33-30).

Never-say-die Maccabi made a good start to the second half with a 6-2 partial score, but this proved short-lived.

Drew Nicholas turned things in Panathinaikos's favor for good midway through the third period, as he scored eight points in Panathinaikos's partial 11-3 score that turned Maccabi's 36-35 lead into a 46-39 advantage for the Greeks.

An impressive Fotsis slam dunk a little later took the score to 51-40. The third period duly ended 54-43.

With tactics that dictated aggressive play around Schortsianitis, Panathinaikos forced the Greek forward to concede two more fouls and return to the bench in the fourth period as the Greens led by 14 (61-47).

Maccabi made one last effort to reduce the arrears, cutting the distance to seven points (63-56) but Panathinaikos promptly restored order (67-56).

Batiste was the European champion's top scorer with 18 points, followed by Diamantidis (16) and Nicholas (14).

A day earlier Diamantidis had received the Euroleague's MVP of the season award. He and Batiste were among the best five players of the competition, the Euroleague organizers announced.

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