SPORTS

Panathinaikos pegs Barcelona down again

Dimitris Diamantidis led once again Panathinaikos to a glorious victory in Europe, as the 65-63 result over Barcelona in Athens on Tuesday means the Greens are within one win from qualifying to the Final Four of the Euroleague.

After yet another knife-edge game in this best-of-five quarterfinal series, Panathinaikos has taken a 2-1 lead and will host the Catalans again on Thursday aiming to complete the upset that hardly anybody could have foreseen when the Greens were paired up with the competition’s favorite.

It was the impressive defensive game of the Greeks for a third game in a row that had the Spanish team pegged down to just 63 points in the end, a far cry from its Euroleague average.

Crucially, Panathinaikos was not to be denied even on a relatively poor night for some of its stars, who struggled in the second half to hit the target on several occasions.

It fell to captain Diamantidis to tip the balance in the Greens’ favor, as two crucial three-pointers and a steal in defense decided the fate of Game 3.

Boosted by over 20,000 fans at the filled to capacity and brimming with excitement Olympic Sports Hall, Panathinaikos led 20-10 after the first period and 29-14 halfway through the second, with the first half ending 38-29.

Yet the zone defense of Barcelona in the second half caused serious problems to the hosts, who let their lead slip and Barca take the upper hand with a margin up to five points (55-50) early in the last period.

James Gist, who had been injured after Game 2 and had no training in the five days since, came on and improved the Greeks’ game in defense and attack alike, offering crucial points in some desperate attacks by Panathinaikos.

This allowed the host to turn a 57-53 deficit into a 59-57 advantage before Barca responded with two three-pointers to lead 63-59. Yet the Catalans would not score again till the end of the match.

A tremendous team effort for Panathinaikos in defense and the cold-blooded three-pointer by Diamantidis for 64-63 had the visitors look for Juan Carlos Navarro all the time for redemption. It was all in vain.

A Gist free throw sealed victory for Panathinaikos, who had Michael Bramos as its top scorer with 14 points, ahead of Diamantidis with 12.

If Panathinaikos does go through to the Final Four in London, it will face Real Madrid in the semifinal, after the Spaniards swept Maccabi Tel Aviv with a 3-0 score in their series.