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Coming off a competitive game in Belgrade against Crvena Zvezda, FC Barcelona came to Athens dealing with several problems.

Player of the Game
Nikola  Mirotic
EFF
32
Nikola Mirotic
Points 20
Accuracy 6-10
Rebounds 7
Assists 4

Core players like Nick Calathes, Cory Higgins, Alex Abrines, and Sergi Martinez were out with injuries.

A few hours before tip-off, Nigel Hayes-Davis tested positive for COVID and will have to stay in the Greek capital for the next ten days until he's cleared to travel back to Catalunya.

With five important units missing, the rotation of the EuroLeague regular season leaders was smaller than usual yet effective. Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius used ten of eleven available players, with captain Pierre Oriola and 18-year-old Michael Caicedo being the only ones who didn't score despite getting playing time.

Barcelona struggled in the first half against a Panathinaikos squad that had registered some important home wins but will most certainly remain out of playoff contention. The Catalans were 21-12 and 26-19 up in the first quarter, making shots from all over the court.

Nicolas Laprovittola, who was on PAO's radar in the summer of 2020, but Real Madrid decided to keep him on the roster, scored 11 points on 3/4 three-pointers.

It was obvious that the zone defense that Dimitris Priftis had deployed fell short of his expectations.

But then the Greek side started not only to score but also to make stops. The Greens made a 7-0 run that tied the game at the end of the first quarter and allowed only 15 points in 12 minutes. By half-time, they had built an encouraging lead (49-41).

"We conceded 49 points, allowing a lot of penetrations from the right side, lay-ups and made some meaningless fouls," Sarunas Jasikevicius said in the press conference following the contest. 

2-pointers this season

54%
21,0
Points made: 21,0
Accuracy: 53,8%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 27
Record min: 14
Most made 2FGs: Brandon Davies

It was clear that the Blaugrana were suffering defensively, something that needed to change - and it did.

"We still scored 41 points in the first half. It was their easy points that hurt us. Points after offensive rebounds, PAO went to the line 16 times. We had emphasized all those things," the Lithuanian coach continued.

Going into the third quarter, Barcelona knew they needed a different approach. Apart from the fact that the hosts scored only 15 points, there's another particularly impressive element. Howard Sant-Roos had scored 10 of his team's 17 overall points in the first 13 minutes of the second half.

The Cuban forward made one of his best and most complete games on both ends (13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) this season, but he must have felt lonely against a rival who looks almost unbeatable.

"Our players showed great character," Jasikevicius said. "We reacted after a very bad defensive first half. But we set out to get a good defensive quarter. We did it, allowing PAO to score 15 points. Obviously, the fact that we scored 27 helped a lot. We managed to change the game."

Barcelona completely dominated the offensive boards, getting consecutive second-chance points.

They finished with 17, but the number that made the difference is 10. That's how many they picked up in the second half. On a just decent shooting night (9/26 from behind the arc), offensive rebounds provided a foothold for the visitors.

When Nikola Mirotic scored and drew a foul to make it 70-79 with less than two minutes remaining, hundreds of home fans left OAKA in disappointment. Most of them had seen the same situation played out in front of them several times those last two years.

But Panathinaikos somewhat miraculously reacted, closing the gap with some steals and free throws, before Nedovic hit a long-distance dagger to make it a one-point game (82-83).

Mitotic and Kyle Kuric being perfect from the charity stripe was all it took for Barca to come out victorious once again, extending their winning streak against the Greens to six games.

"The only negative is that we should have been a little bit smarter in the end, but I understand that my guys have done long trips. It's a tough situation, but they pulled it off," Saras commented.

It was the culmination of a hectic week for Barcelona, including trips to Tenerife, Belgrade, and Athens. Coming up next, on Sunday, is the ACB game against Manresa.

There were two special moments involving Sarunas Jasikevicius on Thursday night. The first was when he entered OAKA and saw the team's fans he served for four years (2007-10, 2011-12) greet him with a round of applause.

"I would like to thank PAO fans for welcoming me for another time. I love them as much as I feel their love. Hopefully, that will never change," Jasikevicius said.

The other moment took place after the game. Panathinaikos former legend and current GM Dimitris Diamantidis went with Saras all the way from the press conference room to Barcelona's locker room area.

The two ex-teammates had a brief discussion before entering the locker room, where at least half of the players watched the dying minutes of the Armani Milan-Real Madrid game.

After a couple of minutes, masked Diamantidis carried Mirotic's jersey, signed by the Montenegrin forward. Of course, those two had played against each other several times in PAO-Real Madrid games, up until 2014 when Mirotic left for the NBA.

At pretty much the same time, Dimitris Priftis was explaining how and why Panathinaikos lost another game, their 12th this season.

"It's a pity that we lost this game, we tried and fought. We deserved to get the win. Unfortunately, we lost our minds on two main things. First, defensive rebounds, where we were not consistent. We allowed them to get the second chances," the Greek coach stressed.

"We are talking about a quality team. When you give them a chance, they won't miss the second time. At certain moments in the second half, we had to be more patient and move the ball better.

As for the third period and the fact that Panathinaikos gave up on an 8-point margin, Priftis pointed at lack of concentration and some inexperience as the factors to blame.

"Of course, we need to fix that," he concluded.

The Greens' next opponent is no other than "eternal rivals" Olympiacos who are enjoying a great season, except for one major lapse - the lost derby against PAO in the Greek League. But what will happen on the eve of Christmas Eve (December 23) is another chapter.

Well, we mentioned Hayes-Davis staying in Athens for ten more days per COVID rules.

The American forward turned 27 on game day, which was one reason why Jasikevicius dedicated Barca's latest win to him.

After FC Barcelona reached their hotel, located just two kilometers from Athens city center, players and staff had a nice surprise for the birthday boy.

The cake was ready, the candles were lit, and all Hayes had to do was appear on the screen to celebrate with everyone from a distance.

Jasikevicius wished him to have "a nice ten days" in Athens, and Hayes-Davis could only agree with his coach. Even when COVID strikes, there is a silver lining.

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2022-01-10
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Atėnų Panathinaikos
Barselonos FC Barcelona
43%
28/65
Field goals
45%
30/66
32
Rebounds
42
11
Assists
21
5
Steals
5
1
Blocks
3
55%
22/40
2-pointers
53%
21/40

Best players

Nemanja  Nedovic
18 PTS
5/13 FG
5/6 FT
Nikola  Mirotic
20 PTS
6/10 FG
7/8 FT
Georgios  Papagiannis
8 REB
6 DREB
2 OREB
Rolands  Smits
9 REB
6 DREB
3 OREB
Nemanja  Nedovic
4 As
1 TO
20 MIN
Rokas  Jokubaitis
6 As
5 TO
26 MIN
Georgios  Papagiannis
17 EFF
71% 2P%
- 3P%
Nikola  Mirotic
32 EFF
83% 2P%
25% 3P%