Credit: Vangelis Stolis
Credit Vangelis Stolis

Right after Panathinaikos had overcome Zenit Saint Petersburg to register their third EuroLeague win in the season, all eyes were on Dimitris Priftis.

Player of the Game
Georgios  Papagiannis
EFF
31
Georgios Papagiannis
Points 18
Accuracy 8-9
Rebounds 13
Assists 1

Not because of the result, his particularly effective zone defense, or the miraculous play that allowed Giorgos Papagiannis to score in less than 0.9 seconds and seal victory for the hosts. The Greek coach was walking up and down the locker room area in crutches.

Priftis had an unfortunate moment during the game, suffering a calf contusion. When he tried to approach Xavi Pascual for the typical farewell handshake, he could barely walk. His colleague had to make some extra steps for the "meeting" to take place.

Credit Vangelis Stolis

But Priftis wasn't the only injured man on Panathinaikos's camp. Giorgos Papagiannis had an awkward landing during the third quarter and has been limping ever since.

"It's nothing, I'm not hurt, it's a short-term thing," he assured everyone.

Panathinaikos had just survived another thriller, which could have easily turned out otherwise when Mindaugas Kuzminskas put the Russian side up 62-61, with less than two minutes remaining.

Then, it was Nemanja Nedovic's turn to strike again with a big long-distance, contested three-pointer, followed by a lay-up from Papagiannis in what initially looked like a "doomed" offensive play.

"It's a big win for us, mainly for psychological reasons," Vassilis Simtsak, Priftis's assistant coach, said in the post-game presser since the 52-year-old coach couldn't reach the press conference room walking up two flights of stairs.

"We've improved a lot over the last three weeks, especially on our defense. We deserved the win in Munich - and tonight," Simtsak continued.

"Congratulations to the guys for adjusting to the defense we're asking for. On offense, we circulated the ball for three quarters and also played a bit of iso."

After the road win against Olympiacos in last Monday's derby, another victory could only serve as a morale booster for PAO.

Simtsak pointed out that winning was not on their minds.

"We just wanted to show that we are on the rise. We've clearly improved in the last few games because the players have understood what we're asking of them," he explained.

Giorgos Papagiannis had an absolutely dominant second half, logging 16 of his 18 points, 11 of his 13 rebounds, and all 3 of his overall blocks in less than 20 minutes. "He is very important to us," Simtsak said.

"We explained to him at half-time that we wouldn't stand a chance if he didn't level up his performance. Zenit had a lot of offensive rebounds. He stepped up, as the other guys did."

"We were upset that we lost a game that was ours against Bayern," the Greek center admitted. "We have found a zone defense that's working. Our losses to UNICS and Zalgiris hurt us," he went on to say.

"When Zenit made some open shots, we tried to shut them down. Frankamp played the pick and roll very well. We now want to build momentum, regardless of results.

We play against CSKA next week. We don't have a Greek League game coming up, although we would like to. So, this means that we have to stay focused through practice," he further added.

If PAO managed to snap Zenit's five-game winning streak, it was largely thanks to Nemanja Nedovic.

The Serbian laconically uttered that "everything that happened with my injuries is a thing of the past, and all I want now is to help my team. People know who I am.

Today we played good defense and we were good on offense as well. We kept Zenit, who are a very good team, to 64 points."

On the other side of the OAKA locker room area, Zenit GM Manos Papadopoulos is someone who knows every inch or centimeter of the installation.

Having served the Greens for almost 30 years, taking over different posts in the club up until 2020, the experienced executive had some warm discussions with current Panathinaikos's execs and EuroLeague legends Frangiskos Alvertis and Dimitris Diamantidis.

In his case, losing to Panathinaikos shouldn't be feeling like losing at all, for all his undisputed professionalism. Blood is thicker than water.

Papadopoulos was the Greens' honoree in Zenit's last visit to OAKA. This time, it was Xavi Pascual and his assistants Diamantis Panagiotopoulos and Inigo Zorzano who stood at half-court besides Alvertis for a commemorative photo.

The game had a special significance for Pascual since it was his first time at OAKA with a few thousand fans (around 5.500) in the stands.

"I thank Panathinaikos for this moment. It was something extraordinary for me that I came back and saw all of them, getting that feeling from the fans. I thank them for how they welcomed me. It was an intense, emotional moment, very beautiful," the Catalan tactician stressed before analyzing what went south for Zenit.

"In the first half, we played better than the score indicated. We had a chance to get a 10-12 point margin, but we missed easy baskets.

In the third quarter we disappeared, Panathinaikos were much better than us. We didn't score in any way, we weren't effective, scoring only 10 points. That was very important.

Towards the end, we came back, but Nedovic's three-pointers and Papagiannis's alley-oop decided the game because we didn't respond offensively. We had a chance to come back, but we missed an open shot.

We came here with five straight wins, it was probably time to lose. In EuroLeague, when you don't deserve to win, you lose".

On the other hand, it was time for Panathinaikos to win after five straight losses. Better late than never, even if the two injured men in the green camp indicate that their latest triumph came at a considerable price.

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2022-01-10
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Atėnų Panathinaikos
Sankt Peterburgo Zenit
44%
23/52
Field goals
38%
26/68
35
Rebounds
37
16
Assists
11
3
Steals
8
71%
15/21
Free throws
60%
6/10
82
Efficiency
58

Best players

Nemanja  Nedovic
18 PTS
5/8 FG
4/5 FT
Jordan  Loyd
15 PTS
6/12 FG
1/2 FT
Georgios  Papagiannis
13 REB
10 DREB
3 OREB
Mindaugas  Kuzminskas
8 REB
5 DREB
3 OREB
Nemanja  Nedovic
5 As
2 TO
29 MIN
Conner  Frankamp
4 As
1 TO
24 MIN
Georgios  Papagiannis
31 EFF
89% 2P%
- 3P%
Mindaugas  Kuzminskas
14 EFF
57% 2P%
33% 3P%