Euroleague Basketball: Pana holds off CSKA to take title

Greeks crowned Euroleague champion for fifth time after nailbiter in Berlin.

panathinaikos cska 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
panathinaikos cska 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Greek cup-holder Panathinaikos won the 2009 Euroleague title on Sunday, beating off an incredible second half comeback by Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow 73-71 in Berlin's 02 World Arena. The team in green had been all over its Russian opponent for the first 20 minutes, taking a 20-point lead at half time. However Ettore Messina's experienced Moscow side took no prisoners in the second half, fighting back to within a point but failing to retain the championship it won in Madrid last year. It was the fifth European title for Panathinaikos, which last claimed it in Athens in 2007, and coach Zeljko Obradovic's seventh. Vassilis Spanoulis of Athens, who top-scored for the winners with 13 points, was named MVP of the final. Former Maccabi Tel Aviv player Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 10 points for the Greeks. JR Holden scored 14 points for Moscow. Earlier Sunday Barcelona beat Olympiacos 95-79 in the third place game, with Barca's David Anderson top-scoring with 20 points. Olympiacos's former Maccabi Tel Aviv players Yotam Halperin and Nikola Vujcic scored zero and 12 points respectively. The Russians began the final far more comfortably than their opponents, taking a six-point lead (10-4) four minutes into the encounter. However the Greeks weren't going to let the game run away from them and kept up with CSKA before moving into an early 13-12 advantage. When that lead grew to 17-12 with two minutes to go in the first quarter Moscow coach Messina looked slightly concerned as he stood on the sidelines. However he knew as well as anybody that this was a marathon, not a sprint. Even so, the team from Athens held on to its lead and was 21-16 ahead at the end of the opening quarter thanks to a Mike Batiste layup. It was more of the same in the second quarter as two consecutive three-pointers from Jasikevicius and then Dimitris Diamantidis put Panathinaikos up 29-19. Halfway through the second stanza Pao was leading 33-19 after scoring 10 points without reply and Moscow was missing shots all around the basket. Messina called a time out to try and revitalize his troops. But it didn't seem to work and Athens pushed on. With two minutes to go in the half it had built a 15-point gap at 36-21. By half time last year's champion appeared resigned to letting go of its crown. Right at the buzzer, Jasikevicius passed the ball behind his back to Drew Nicholas who floated in another three-pointer to send the Greeks into the locker rooms an astounding 20 points ahead at 48-28. As if to rub salt in the wound, Panathinaikos began the second half as it ended the first - with a three-pointer, this time from Jasikevicius himself. And initially the Greeks held on to their lead. However CSKA attempted to eat into the gap throughout the quarter, and suddenly went on a 10-point run starting with a Trajon Langdon free throw. When Langdon came right back into the game to shoot a crucial three Moscow was only 13 points behind with just over two minutes to play in the third and Pana coach Obradovic called a time out. But this time it was the Russian team's turn to pressure its opponent and by the end of the quarter it had reduced the gap to just 10 points (56-46), outscoring Panathinaikos 18-8. The Greeks had not scored a point in the last six minutes of the third quarter which ended with Spanoulis missing a three-point attempt. CSKA came out of the blocks with real intent at the start of the final stanza, immediately making it an eight-point game when Zoran Planic scored a layup. And when Matjaz Smodis scored another two-pointer the Panathinaikos lead was only six points (56-50). Athens calmed itself down and began scoring again. Stratus Perperoglou got a three five minutes from the end to push the advantage back up to 13 points (65-52) and the game seemed to be heading towards a Panathinaikos win. But once again Moscow fought back and managed to cut the lead to just five points (65-60) when Holden scored three minutes from the final buzzer. Messina was waving his arms like crazy, Obradovic going red in the face with the nerves but CSKA was in control. Smodis scored a three and the gap was four points at 70-66 with 40.9 seconds left in the game. Ramunas Siskauskas then scored a stunning three and Moscow was only a single point behind, 10.4 seconds from the end. The teams began trading time outs, fouls and free throws as the seconds slowly dripped away. CSKA had the final possession but Siskausnus's three-point attempt missed and Panathinaikos had won the title.