The 2011-12 Euroleague Final Four field is now filled, as Panathinaikos’ cliffhanger of an 86-85 win against Maccabi Tel Aviv last night sets up a May date with the monsters of CSKA Moscow in Istanbul.
(And now, a slight bit of horn-tooting. Note a few Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ made good, i.e. Dimitris Diamantidis as player of the game and a fairly close call of the final score. Yeah, yeah, BiE knows the drill from White Men Can’t Jump: “The sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days. Anyone can win the lottery.”)
While the bookmakers see the Greens as relative longshots – former Euroleague sponsor Sporting Bet has CSKA at 3/4, FC Barcelona at 12/5, PAO at 4/1 and Olympiacos at 11/1 – one compelling bit of history should be firmly in the minds of the favorites: Since 2001, Panathinaikos has played in five EL Final Fours and they’ve won four, including those three taken in the past five years.
Game highlight clip, a look at the last five seconds of game time, an obligatory YouTube of the OAKA crowd and official league writeup follow.
(Euroleague) – Panathinaikos will head to Istanbul to try to defend its Turkish Airlines Euroleague crown at the 2012 Final Four after holding off Maccabi Electra 86-85 in a classic Game 5 in front of a packed house at OAKA.
Man of the match Dimitris Diamantidis capped a fantastic evening with the game-winning free throw with five seconds remaining and then a steal on the final play to seal the victory. Diamantidis finished with 25 points, a career-high 34 performance index rating and came within one of a record with 12 fouls drawn. His 15 free throws made established a new single playoff game record. The Greens move on to face CSKA Moscow in the semifinals of the Final Four next month. Maccabi, which lost the Euroleague title game to Panathinaikos in 2011, is done for the season.
Maccabi held a slim 20-18 lead after 10 minutes, but the Greens pushed back and took total control by halftime, 41-32. The lead reached 12 before back-to-back Yogev Ohayon threes highlighted a 12-0 Maccabi run to tie the game at 46-46. Ohayon had a chance to put the Israeli champs ahead from the line, but missed twice. Panathinaikos responded with an unanswered 10 points to regain control. But Maccabi had one last fourth-quarter run in it. Keith Langford closed the gap and Guy Pnini tied it at 85-85 with 9.8 seconds to go. However, Diamantidis got back to the line, made the go-ahead free throw and despite missing the second, came up with a big defensive play to secure the win.
Sarunas Jasikevicius added 13 points for the winners. David Blu paced Maccabi with 14 points, Langford tallied 11 and 5 assists and Tal Burstein and Yogev Ohayon netted 10 each.
Maccabi controlled the opening tip and got on the scoreboard quickly on a Blu jumper. Sofoklis Schortsanitis beat a double team to find Ohayon for Maccabi’s second basket before a classic Diamantidis-to-Mike Batiste pick-and-roll resulted in a basket for the latter.
Maccabi’s strong early defense resulted in a Langford layup. Nick Calathes soon sank the game’s first three-pointer to make it 6-5 and Diamantidis followed by tying the game from the line. Batiste gave the Greens their first lead with a second-chance hook shot, but Blu responded from downtown to make it 9-8 midway through the quarter.
After a timeout, Batiste and Langford swapped layups and leads. Then Richard Hendrix followed a Steven Smith basket with a monster jam. Reserves Lior Eliyahu for the visitors and Kostas Tsartsaris for the hosts both scored in the paint to make it 15-15. Romain Sato put Panathinaikos up one from the line. A second foul on Hendrix forced Maccabi coach David Blatt to call upon Shawn James, representing the 11th Maccabi player to see action in the first quarter. Burstein drilled a three that gave the visitors a 20-18 lead after 10 minutes.
Ian Vougioukas tied it for the hosts with a basket in the paint. Eliyahu and Jasikevicius traded baskets in rapid succession. Batiste beat a double team with a pass to a cutting Kostas Kaimakoglou to make it 24-22. James made an impact on the defensive end, while Devin Smith battled on the offensive glass and drew fouls on back-to-back possessions and sank free throws to tie the score. Diamantidis free throws put the hosts back on top. Blatt was assessed a technical foul for arguing a call and Diamantidis took advantage by making the resulting free throws and a tip-in on the offensive glass to put the Greens up by 6.
An Ohayon- to-James alley-oop got Maccabi going again, but a Batiste tip-in and more Diamantidis free throws made it 34-26. Devin Smith sank a pull-up jumper only to see Jasikevicius hit back with a three-pointer of his own. Schortsanitis got his first points of the game with three free throws over two possessions. Devin Smith narrowed the gap to seven, but Saras answered back with two from the charity stripe. Burstein’s shot at the buzzer was blocked by Tsartsaris as the hosts went into the locker room up 41-32 at halftime.
Stratos Perperoglou drove to give Panathinaikos its first double-digit lead after the first play of the second half. A basket by Hendrix underneath was bettered by Diamantidis to put the Greens up 12. Baskets by Hendrix and Blu sandwiched an offensive foul by Diamantidis. Then Ohayon buried a three-pointer and Maccabi was suddenly within 46-41.
A second Ohayon triple capped a 10-point run and Panathinaikos called timeout after seeing its lead slashed. The TO did not stop the visitors, though, as Hendrix sank a short jumper to tie the score at 46-46 and silence the crowd midway through the third quarter. Ohayon went to the line with a chance to give Maccabi the lead, but missed twice. Instead, Perperoglou banged in a long jumper to rescue the Greens and Jasikevicius followed with a pull-up jumper. A Kaimakoglou triple made it a 7-0 run for the hosts. Perperoglou added another triple for a 56-46 lead before Devin Smith scored for Maccabi. Vougioukas free throws restored a 10-point lead and his fadeaway jumper made it 12 before Burstein sank a three at the third-quarter buzzer for a 62-53 line.
Perperoglou answered with another big jumper early in the fourth quarter. Maccabi went to Schortsanitis down low for a few baskets, but the Greens kept scoring to negate the damage. A David Logan fast break slam put the hosts ahead 68-58. Aleks Maric came off the bench and scored in the paint for a 12-point lead. Guy Pnini answered with a three only to see Diamantidis match him as OAKA rocked and rolled. Ohayon penetrated for a layup and Blu hit a long jumper as Maccabi tried to make another push.
After a timeout, Pnini stripped Diamantidis and Blu hit another jumper to make it 73-67 with just under four minutes remaining. A Langford follow basket cut the deficit to five. Calathes found Maric inside for an important slam and Blu missed his next shot. Vougioukas extended the lead to 78-69 with 2:23 remaining.
Pnini kept Maccabi in the fight with a triple. Maric split free throws. Devin Smith drove for a layup, but a tough layup by Diamantidis kept the Green in control. Langford struck a quick three to get within 81-77 with 1:15 remaining. After Devin Smith fouled out and Maric missed two from the line, Langford clawed Maccabi to within two with 53.3 seconds left.
Kaimakoglou was fouled at the basket with 32.6 seconds left, but missed both free throws. Langford tried to tie it, but missed; he then fouled out with 15.7 seconds left and Diamantidis made it a two-possession game by sinking both free throws, 83-79. Hendrix found a cutting Blu for a basket-plus-foul that took just the seconds off the clock and made it a one-point game.
Diamantidis was back at the line with 11.3 tics on the clock and made both for an 85-82 score. Pnini went for a long three and was fouled with 9.8 seconds to go. Pnini made them all to tie the game at 85-85. Diamantidis drove and drew a foul with five seconds left. He made the first, but missed the second. Burstein rose for the rebound and turned to lead one final attack. However, Diamantidis tipped the ball away and Maccabi did not get off a last shot as Panathinaikos held on for the win and a trip to Istanbul.