I watched the David vs Goliath game of the Euroleague Top16 tonight and here is my (long) report on what happened in Hala Pionir this Wednesday.
The game started with a huge moving screen by Mike Batiste that was not called, however Milt Palacio answered directly with a three pointer. As usual, Slavko Vranes starts the game instead of Nikola Pekovic and he even went for nice Pekovic like left handed hook shot. Other surprising tactical moves by the coaches at the beginning were the starting of Uros Tripkovic to defend on Sani Becirovic and Stratos Perperoglou to stop Novica Velickovic which both could not do in the beginning except with fouls.
With 2:45 to go in the first quarter, big Nikola finally enters the court and Petar Bozic scores a huge three to go for a 6 point lead of the hometown favorites. Bozic role in fact is to treat Sarunas Jasikevicius with his very special defense and PAO has to go for a first Timeout after Pekovic scores his first basket with one of his typical back to the basket moves. The first quarter ends with a great three point shot by Milenko Tepic after two great defensive stops by Partizan.
After Pekovic already abused Batiste and Dikoudis, PAO is now trying to defend him with the tricky Nikola Prkacin. And the Croat directly gets called for a foul after imitating too much of elbow pressure in his face and falling down to the floor with the greatest of style. However, two misses in offense followed by Green breaks are enough for Partizan’s coach to take a timeout. The Serbs start with a 2-3 zone where Prkacin hammers a dunk on the front of the rim but Spanoulis hits the big long range shot to stay in the game.
And the first little fights start off, and of course we have Prkacin within. After he lost the ball, he holds it in his hands and does not want to give it to the refs. Doing this as a Croat in Pionir is not the best idea, especially if you go for a another hard foul on Pekovic on the next defensive play. While the refs tell the two coaches in Italian to stop their circus on the bench, the local Grobari are doing their job by singing and clapping and cheering their own team like no one else in Europe does.
Pekovic in offense may not be the usual scorer so far, as his team mates hit shots but he is doing a huge job on getting foul calls from his opponents and showing why he is a Fantasy favorite. And while I am writing this, he misses on of his trademark hook shots badly from very close on the right hand. Another important note is probably the very good refereeing, I did not see any advantage giving to the Greens even as I am cheering a bit with the underdogs, like always.
PAO is also using the zone right now as Pekovic already gave the inside players a lot of foul calls. On the other side, Saras is really not a factor so far and misses a free throw so badly that he gets angry. Dusan Ivkovic is in the arena too to watch some of his potential Serbian NT players. Finally, the foul calls are also dropping on the Serbian guards and forwards that try to stop the PAO drives and you see the Greens on regular basis on the charity stripe. Finally, we have a halftime score of 42-37 and everything is still possible.
Jasikevicius is starting the 2nd half and directly goes for some of his little jumpers from the free throw line. Pekovic is getting more and more balls in the offense but he has some trouble to score against Batiste and is forced to pass out and gets intercepted several times. However, Partizan is still up 2 points when coach Vujosevic calls a timeout after a 5-0 run.
As the game is coming closer to the end, and the score still remains close too, the importance of the referees will increase. Kecman gets hammered twice on a drive but gets no call despite he is scoring or maybe because he is scoring. PAO is still remaining in the zone but Slavko Vranes is doing the game of his life with a nice offensive rebound and a huge Vlade Divac (who is also in the arena) like pass to go for a Partizan And1 score.
And we have the end of the third quarter with two ver bad passes from spnoulis and Palacio but no team could take an advantage out of it and Partizan is up 5 before the last 10 minutes. I deliberately don’t check any Internet forums or chats in order to not get influenced by Greek or Serbian commentators. However, actually, I believe that PAO will get the necessary calls in the end when it should get close. But you don’t know, Partizan is playing better and should win this game in any way.
Prkacin starts the fourth quarter with non called 3 seconds call-missed shot combination but Partizan can not use this to increase their lead. What is important to say is that Panathinaikos is not hitting from outside so far and Palacio goes for the breakaway dunk after another brick from Becirovic. While I was dissing on Saras in the beginning, he is now the man for PAO as he hits another jumper and forces a mid court violation with his defense. Yes, he plays defense. And he hits the three ball to stay in the game at 64-62.
The Euroleague TV commentator uses a Timeout to explain what he calls the “Obradovic rules”: If you do 5 fouls in the first five minutes, you get 5 foul calls; if you go for 15 tough defense with a lot of touches, grabbing and holding, you may get some foul calls (certainly not all) but you will also get a lot of steals. How right that is. And the whistles start to blow very often in favor for PAO and remain silent for Partizan in these moments with 6 minutes to go and an even score. Vijosevic is staying on the court on another non call on a PAO 3 seconds look-a-like.
The same moment, you see Zeljko Obradovic killing his own assistant. By the way, this assistant I see him so often standing and dancing around the line, who is that? The intensity of the game is even increasing and the crowd is going crazy while Saras is dribbling on his own foot by bringing up the ball without any defender on him.
And we go for another quote of the (excellent) EL.TV commentator. Sarunas has already missed one FT tonight, so he won’t go for another miss. (Saras misses) I think I should better shut up now. When talking about the referees, now Partizan is also getting some calls on drives but Saras is like always complaining of every decision by the Orange army. And there is another Timeout called with Partizan up 68-67 in an atmosphere close to absolute folly.
Something to add is that Milt Palacio is doing an amazing job. I better say it now before he busts it up in the end eventually. But a huge three gives Partizan a 6 point lead with a little more than 2 minutes to go. And the Greens only stay in the game at the moment because of Saras who is showing his amazing clutch skills. But Partizan scores on an offensive rebound where all the PAO defenders tried to dive to get the foul calls.
But Jasikevicius misses the ultra important three at 77-73. And Pekovic gabrs the rebound and will go to the line after the Timeout. And what Jasikevicius is for Pana, Palacio is actually for Partizan, the absolute go-to-guy. 30 seconds to go and Pekovic steps to the line for 2 out of 2. Diamantidis is going for a quick three-point attempt which he misses and Pekovic is two free-throws away to qualify Partizan for the Top8 round. And Pionir is burning, throwing every thing on the court when Kecman scores on the offensive rebound.
Final score 82-73 and what a mess for Panathinaikos who can not qualify for the top 8. I think I have to go to Belgrade now for the Playoffs.