Forget Jeremy Pargo, Vassilis Spanoulis and even mighty Sofoklis; instead consider: Could Khalid El-Amin have been the best Euroleague free-agent signing of 2010-11? The former U. Conn Husky/journeyman of Turkey and Ukraine once again applied the dagger with two free throws for his 10th and 11th points of the game, beautifully facilitated ball movement and helped stifle a dangerous Panathinaikos backcourt that shot just 8-of-22 overall in last night’s 68-67 Lietuvos Rytas victory.
It was yet another shocker from The Team That Would Not Die, a squad written off by many (yours truly included) sometime back in the Euroleague regular season round, and has produced one heck of a potential logjam in EL Group E going into tonight’s Caja Laboral Baskonia-Unicaja Malaga game.
From the always faithful In Case You Missed It Department, below the break runs the official Euroleague highlight clip (appropriately entitled “Alive and kicking”) and writeup.
(Euroleague) – Lietuvos Rytas stunned Panathinaikos 67-68 on Wednesday at the Athens Olympic Indoor Hall to infuse plenty of drama into Group E. Khalid El-Amin calmly sank a pair of game-winning free throws with 3.1 seconds remaining and Brad Newley scored 7 crucial points among his team-high 16 in the closing minutes as the Lithuanian champs matched the Greek champs atop the group at 3-2.
Panathinaikos led by 8 early in the third quarter, but was never able to put the visitors away. Rytas tied the score three times in the fourth quarter before pulling ahead. Dimitris Diamantidis lifted Panathinaikos to a 1-point lead with 2 free throws with 7.7 seconds left, but El-Amin drew a foul and won the game from the opposite foul line.
El-Amin finished with 11 points and 4 assists and Milko Bjelica scored 10 for the winners, who out-rebounded the hosts 28-41, including 16 offensive rebounds. Mike Batiste paced Panathinaikos with 11 points, Drew Nicholas scored 10 and Diamantidis finished with 8 points and 7 assists in defeat.
Panathinaikos won the opening tip and after some great ball movement, Diamantidis drilled a three-pointer from the corner. Bjelica was Rytas’s top weapon early, fighting for a score and then following his own miss. Romain Sato got out on the break for an easy Panathinaikos layup, but El-Amin knotted the score at 7-7 with a triple.
Batiste and Cemal Nalga traded scores to keep the game tied. Nalga also drew a pair of fouls from Panathianikos forwards along the way. Simas Jasaitis broke away for a fastbreak layup and Rytas’s first lead and Newley spotted up for a triple that made it 11-16 midway through the opening quarter. After a TV timeout, Newley spotted a wide-open El-Amin next to the basket to stretch the lead to 6.
Stratos Perperoglou made his presence felt free throws and a jumper surrounding a blocked shot at the other end. Diamantidis fed Batiste for an alley-oop as the Greens closed the gap to a single point, but Jonas Valanciunas made sure his team had the lead after 10 minutes with a monster two-handed slam to put his team up 20-23.
Kostas Tsartsaris hit a jumper to keep the Greens’ pressure on and Kostas Kaimakoglou eventually put Panathinaikos ahead with a second-chance basket that made it 26-25. Antonis Fotsis threw in a runner as OAKA grew louder. El-Amin came back after a rest and fed Kenan Bajramovic for a fastbreak score, but Fotsis bettered him by faking out Valanciunas and throwing down a two-handed slam. Bajramovic drove inside for a basket-and-foul to knot the score at 30-30. But Rytas never regained the lead and Milenko Tepic boosted the Greens’ edge to 3 twice with drives to the hoop. Bajramovic missed a chance to trim the gap from the line and instead Tsartsaris pushed Panathinaikos to 34-39 with 2 free throws before halftime.
Like the first half, Diamantidis opened the second-half scoring with a triple. El-Amin charged through the Panathinaikos defense after a broken play to draw a foul and sink 2 free throws. Newley and Nalga both missed layups, but Panathinaikos did not capitalize. After Newley made it 43-38 from the line, Batiste missed an attempted alley-oop and Newley bolted for a slam before Nalga brought his team within 2 with a free throw.
Tsartsaris netted 2 more from the line, but Kenan Bajramovic fed Valanciunas underneath to make it 45-43. Martynas Gecevicius’s first triple made it a 1-point game, but the Greens held on with strong defense and finished a break with a Fotsis dunk. Kaimakoglou added 2 from the line to make it 51-46.
A Simas Jasaitis jumper and Tepic offensive foul opened the door for Rytas, but Bajramovic missed and Antonis Fotsis finished another break with a wicked slam to finish the third quarter with the Greens holding a 53-48 lead.
Bjelica carried Rytas back at the start of the fourth quarter with 4 points. Nicholas kept Panathinaikos ahead with a jumper, but D.J. Strawberry connected from the corner with a triple to tie the game at 55-55. Nicholas answered again and the Greens rejected Gecevicius twice on the same possession before Diamantidis fed Batiste for an alley-oop layup.
Rytas stayed close on a pair of Bajramovic free throws and then Strawberry closed the gap to 59-58 with four minutes remaining. Nicholas came through with another clutch jumper, but Newley drained a triple from the corner to tie the score at 61-61. Nicholas kept Panathinaikos on top with 2 free throws, but Newley soared for a follow-slam with 2:35 remaining to tie it again.
Strawberry then rebounded a Batiste miss, drew a foul and sank another free throw to give Rytas its first lead since early in the second quarter. Nicholas and Diamantidis both missed from downtown before El-Amin snagged a rebound and Newley converted a tough layup to put the visitors up 63-66 with 1:20 remaining.
After a timeout, Batiste scored in the paint and El-Amin missed a triple, but Rytas got the rebound. El-Amin dribbled the clock down, but then Bajramovic lost the ball inside. Panathinaikos tried to run, but Nicholas could not shoot after corralling in the long pass. But he got the ball to Diamantidis, who was fouled with 7.7 seconds remaining.
The Greens leader sank both free throws to put his team ahead. Rytas head coach Aleksander Trifunovic called timeout and drew a play for El-Amin, who drove through Tepic and was fouled with 3.1 seconds left. El-Amin made both to put his team up 67-68. Panathinaikos boss Zeljko Obradovic ran a play at the other end for Nicholas, but he missed at the buzzer and Rytas celebrated a major victory.
On Thursday, Caja Laboral hosts Unicaja and if the hosts win, there will be a three-way tie atop the standings, while if the visitors win, all four teams will be in the playoff hunt. Rytas hosts Caja Laboral next week in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Game of the Week, while Panathinaikos visits Unicaja.