Olympiakos holds firm to level basketball’s final series

Olympiakos ended a four-game losing streak at home against Panathinaikos with a 76-72 victory to level their best-of-five basketball league title series at 1-1. Defending champion Panathinaikos, crowned European champion just weeks ago, took an early 8-0 lead that prompted the home team’s coach Pini Gershon to call for a break. Sound defending from Panathinaikos kept the visitor ahead, by an eight-point margin, 14-6. Olympiakos began gaining composure when Gershon brought on forward Panayiotis Vasilopoulos, who helped boost his team’s performance in defense and also increased his team’s options in attack. It all led to a 9-0 run for Olympiakos that gave the host the lead for the first time in the game with a 15-14 score well into the first period. But Panathinaikos rebounded to level the score, 20-20, at the quarter-time break. Repeating its early breakaway in the first period, Panathinaikos started the second quarter with an explosive 11-0 run for a promising 31-20 lead. Eight of those 11 points came from Serb guard Milos Vujanic. But Olympiakos managed to hang on and reduce the deficit to five points, 42-37, by half-time. Lithuanian guard Arvydas Macijauskas, his team’s top scorer last night with 21 points, helped Olympiakos to reduce to within a point but Panathinaikos, impressive both in defense and attack, broke away to a a 55-46 lead. Indicating that this game would probably be a tight affair right to its end, Olympiakos responded once again to narrow the deficit to 59-55 by the end of the third period with shooting guard Alex Acker playing a leading role in this latest recovery. Olympiakos took full advantage of the absence of Panathinaikos star play-maker Dimitris Diamantidis, who was withdrawn by his coach Zeljko Obradovic late in the game with four fouls. Olympiakos went ahead 70-63 with three minutes to go and held on for its 76-72 win. The two clubs meet for Game Two of the final series on Wednesday with Panathinaikos as host. In the other best-of-five series for third place and a Euroleague berth, Thessaloniki team Aris hosts Athens club Panionios tomorrow in Game Three. Their contest is locked at 1-1.

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