Credit: KK Partizan
Credit KK Partizan

Saturday night provided a multiple treat to fans of Panathinaikos OPAP Athens attending the third "Pavlos Giannakopoulos tournament". Not only did they relish their return to the OAKA Arena after 18 months (the Greens announced that tickets were sold out, which made for a crowd of 8,000), but the occasion acquired even bigger proportions with Zeljko Obradovic making another comeback to the place he has always gotten a royal treatment, long after his days on the Greeks' bench were gone.

Eventually, the hosts survived an overtime thriller against Partizan NIS Belgrade by 89-85 (14-20, 17-28, 28-20, 21-12, 9-5), mainly thanks to their defensive showing in the game's final stretch. That being said, it was also a performance indicative of the amount of work still needed to be done in order for them to be competitive in the 2021-22 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. On the other hand, for the second straight game, the Serbian powerhouse showed that it can be mentioned in the same breath as a lot of teams participating in Europe's premier league.

Panathinaikos will face Anadolu Efes in Sunday's final game since the EuroLeague champs made light work of Ratiopharm Ulm (88-69) in the tournament's other semi-final. In addition, Nemanja Nedovic returned to action for the Greek side after more than five months. An injury and COVID repercussions kept the Serbian guard sidelined and thus, his comeback was far from spectacular. In fact, he had zero impact on the game in the few minutes allocated to him by Dimitris Priftis.

Ioannis Papapetrou went for 20 points, but Jeremy Evans was the standout player for the winning side. Not only did he drop 15, but he combined his scoring input with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block in an all-around performance, arguably his best with the green jersey so far. For Partizan, LeDay scored 17, 20-year-old Israeli prospect and second-round draft pick Jav Madar put up 15, while Punter had only six field-goal attempts. For the most part, Partizan dominated the game but suffered a 58-37 partial score during the hosts' comeback in the last 25 minutes, including overtime. 

Credit KK Partizan

Panathinaikos started off with high energy (5-0), despite the fact that Partizan got many second chances out of offensive boards. Gradually, the EuroCup contenders got acclimated to the game and responded with their run of 10-2. The hosts made consecutive turnovers, giving their opponents the opportunity for some easy baskets in transition. Partizan got a double-digit lead early in the second quarter (16-26) and that was just the beginning for Obradovic's men. 

The six-time EuroLeague champs kept struggling on offense, which further increased their defensive woes. Partizan kept hitting open shots, increasing the lead to 16 (20-36) and then to 19 points (21-40) mid-way through the second quarter. The facts that almost every Partizan player, save Koprivica and Punter, had scored in the first 14 minutes and Panathinaikos's first 3-pointer came only after almost 17 minutes (by Kendrick Perry) speak for themselves. 

Sant-Roos trimmed the deficit to 12 (31-43) but the Serbian squad came back in no time with two daggers from  Punter and LeDay bestowed their team a 17-point margin (31-48) at half-time. By then, Partizan were dominating all statistical categories: 20-10 on rebounds, 13-5 on assists, 5-1 on steals, in addition to an excellent 18 of 31 on FGs. 

The hosts stroke a partial score of 9-2 within three minutes (40-50) in another attempt to revamp their chances but Partizan soon regained control thanks to back-to-back threes from LeDay and Punter. Priftis's squad made the best out of their free throws and Macon's isolation game, coming within close range (55-61) for the first time, but Madar paid them back with a three-point play. 

It took Panathinaikos four minutes into the last quarter to tie the game (73-73). Perry and Evans stood tall on defense and, despite Papapetrou's bad shooting night, it was the team's captain who gave the Greens their first lead of the match down the stretch (76-73). Partizan were held down to only 5 points at 6:43, while the home crowd was starting to become an important factor. 

The encounter turned into a nail-biter, as Papapetrou hit 2 of 2 free throws but subsequently missed a 3-pointer, thus allowing Zagorac to equalize at 80 apiece and 39 seconds left to play. Kendrick Perry ran in transition with only 4 seconds remaining but his mid-range, the off-balance shot fell off the rim. 

The game went to overtime, where both teams were exchanging free throws for the most part. Jeremy Evans made an open three (86-83), Punter responded with an easy lay-up and Papapetrou sent home another one from a long distance to put the Greens ahead by four (89-85).

Punter couldn't issue another response from downtown and Panathinaikos celebrated a hard-fought win. 

Panathinaikos OPAP: Papapetrou 20 (6/16 FG, 6 AST), Perry 15, Evans 15 (7/10 FG, 7 REB), Floyd 11 (6 REB), Macon 9.

Partizan: LeDay 17 (5/7 FG), Madar 15, Trifunovic 10, Zagorac 10, Kurucs 8 (8 REB), Punter 8, Moore 8.  

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