SPORTS

Panathinaikos takes first final

Panathinaikos defeated AEK 77-68 on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five final playoff series. Panathinaikos played in front of empty stands, because of crowd trouble in its semifinal playoff series against Peristeri. AEK started the match stronger, taking the ball inside, to center Andrew Betts and forward Dimos Dikoudis. Just before the end of the first quarter, it took a nine-point lead (20-11). The guests continued to dominate in the second quarter. Only forward Costas Tsartsaris and guard Ariel McDonald kept Panathinaikos in the game. AEK twice took a double-digit lead, the last time with a minute and a half before the halftime break (36-26). But it would not score again until midway through the third quarter. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos had gone into an 18-0 run, prodded by the team captain, Frangiskos Alvertis. The hosts led 54-45 after three quarters and AEK could come no closer than five points in the final minutes. Panathinaikos is a team with no flamboyant super stars, especially after the departure of Serb do-it-all player Dejan Bodiroga last summer. However, it has 12 very good players who would star on any other team. Yesterday, it needed just nine of them to dispatch the challengers. By contrast, AEK, with Dikoudis and Betts tiring, could only rely on guard Joe Crispin to provide consistent scoring. Crispin was the game’s top scorer, with 22 points. Panathinaikos had a more balanced offense, with Alvertis and Tsartsaris leading with 12 points each. McDonald had 11, forward Antonis Fotsis scored 10, swingman Rodney Buford, Fotsis’s teammate last season in the NBA, with the Memphis Grizzlies, had nine and center Lazaros Papadopoulos came late from the bench to stifle Betts and score eight points.