Jonas Maciulis led Panathinaikos to its first win over archrival Olympiakos in the finals for the league crown, as the Greens capitalized on their home advantage to win 59-56 and lead the best-of-five series 1-0.
Panathinaikos managed to shut out the visitors’ offense in the first quarter leading 19-6, but its persistence on attempting three-point shots (0/9 in the first half) in vain in the second period allowed Olympiakos to crawl back into contention. The Reds trailed 35-26 at half-time, led by a prolific Stratos Perperoglou, scorer of 15 points on the night.
The third quarter belonged to James Gist, as the Panathinaikos forward changed the style of the hosts’ attacks by adding motion and points from close range that Olympiakos could do very little about. This allowed the Greens to recover from a poor start, leading by just two points (38-36), to grab a 10-point advantage at the end of the quarter (51-41).
Olympiakos started the last period with 12 unaswered points to advance 53-51 for the only time in the game four minutes from the end. Its tight defense forced the frustrated Greens to resort to long-range shots again, but it just wasn’t a good night for the hosts’ shooting guards (1/20 three-pointers in total).
But then the Panathinaikos defense rose to the challenge and two lay-ups by Stephane Lasme and Maciulis brought Panathinaikos in front again (55-53), before two free throws by Gist sealed victory for the champion.
Maciulis was the most valuable player of the match with 15 points and eight rebounds. He made six out of six two-pointers.
The match stood out for its unusually quiet atmosphere, as unlike in previous games between the country’s Eternal Rivals, the stands were far from full by the Panathinaikos fans at the Olympic Sports Hall. At least there were no incidents of violence, that have time and again overshadowed the Greek finals.
Game 2 will take on Monday at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Piraeus.
In the battle for the third spot PAOK upset Panionios to win 65-60 at Nea Smyrni and lead the best-of-five series 1-0.