Panathinaikos off to a winning start in title quest

Defending basketball champion Panathinaikos, crowned European champion for the fourth time in the club’s history just weeks ago, defeated Olympiakos 79-72 in last night’s best-of-five series opener for the league title. Panathinaikos, taking full advantage of Croat international Andrija Zizic’s absence due to injury, dominated play under the hoops. Panathinaikos shot off to an early 7-2 lead, but the visitor responded with an 8-0 run for a 10-7 advantage by the fourth minute of play. The contestants remained within striking distance of each other for most of the first half, but Panathinaikos managed to go into the break with a 10-point lead, 44-34, after Ramunas Siskauskas began finding the target. The European champion was never really threatened from that point on. Panathinaikos increased its lead to 49-34 early in the third period. Sensing that the game was beginning to slip away, Olympiakos coach Pini Gershon brought on forward Sofoklis Schortsiantis, who, in the little time that he managed to play, showed greater fighting spirit than his teammates. However, an injury forced him out of action in the 26th minute, just two minutes after coming on. Panathinaikos had established a match-winning 62-46 lead by the end of the third period. Olympiakos fought hard to reduce the gap to seven points, 70-63, during the final period, but the home team’s Costas Tsatsaris steered his team to safety and the final 79-27 result. Sani Becirovic led the scoring for Panathinaikos with 14 points. Henry Domercant was Olympiakos’s top scorer with 16 points. The league finalists meet again for Game 2 of the title series on Sunday with Olympiakos as the host. Aris, up 1-0 in the best-of-five series for third place and a Euroleague berth, will be greeted by Panionios on Saturday.

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