By George Georgakopoulos
Panathinaikos is one victory away from qualifying to the Euroleague playoffs after upsetting group leader Real Madrid in Spain with a 74-73 score.
The Greens now need one win from their two remaining games against Bamberg in Germany and CSKA Moscow in Athens to finish fourth, while still harboring some hopes of finishing third in their group.
This was the eighth win in 12 group games for the Greeks in the top-16, and arguably the most important one: Not only did it bring them one step from qualification, it also showed the quality of their defense and illustrated that on their day they can beat anyone, anywhere.
The two teams went neck and neck throughout the game in Madrid, with the Greens grabbing just before half-time a seven-point lead (36-29) that the hosts quickly covered.
However, when Panathinaikos managed to overturn Real’s 53-46 lead late in the third period, it went on to advance 67-71 and never allow the Spaniards to regain the upper hand, despite a nail-biting last minute.
With the contest going down to the wire, Panathinaikos saw its lead threatened in the last few seconds when captain Dimitris Diamantidis missed three out of his last four free throws. Still, Real’s last shot failed to hit the target, sending Panathinaikos two points above Unicaja Malaga in the standings.
Costas Tsartsaris played his best game in the Euroleague this season, scoring 16 points with five in six field goals, while Diamantidis notched up 14 points and distributed eight assists.