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Euroleague: Barça evens series to force Game 5

Euroleague

The Panathinaikos faithful were out in force during Game 4 of their best-of-five series with Barcelona Regal.

In a margin of victory that doubles that of the three previous games, FC Barcelona Regal kept their hopes for a Euroleague Final Four appearance alive Thursday with a 60:70 win over Panathinaikos in Athens. Regal’s playmaker, Juan Carlos Navarro, led the Spanish club with 17 points, 11 in the fourth quarter, to send the best-of-five series back to Barcelona for a fifth and deciding contest.

Both clubs opened the contest with the strategy of pounding the ball inside with the Greens using their massive big man, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, and Barça going to their man Nate Jawai. Both picked up early baskets, but it was Jawai that got into trouble with the strategy as he picked up his second personal foul just three minutes into the contest. He remained in for a few more minutes before having to kill time on the bench to not get his third too early. Big Sofo accounted for seven of Panathinaikos’ points in the opening frame. Jawai had five, while spending much of the period on the bench. By the end of the first 10 the guests held a sizable lead at 10:20.

Euroleague

Barcelona’s Ante Tomic puts down a dunk while Victor Sada looks on.

As the first 10 belonged to the guests, the hosts took control late in the second. Trying to get things started, Michael Bramos put down a big dunk that got the Athens crowd of nearly 18,000 on their feet and into the contest. The clubs exchanged baskets for the better part of the quarter, but then Schortsanitis connected on a pair of charity tosses and Bramos hit the bottom of the net from behind the arc to pull the Greens to within four, 23:27. As the half drew to a close, Panathinaikos continued to put pressure on the inside of the Regal defense with Schortsanitis and Bramos, but Navarro and newcomer Alex Abrines were able to counter to keep the gap at four, 27:31.

Stephane Lasme cut the margin to two for the first points of the second half, but Ante Tomic threw down a dunk to push back to four points. Sofo dropped in a pair of singles and then Barcelona took over and scored 12 straight. By the time the hosts would score again, Regal had run the margin up to 14, 31:45. James Gist dropped in a pair of free throws to stop the run, and Jonas Maciulis got a put-back after a Bramos missed triple to cut the margin back to 10. Tomic got two layups and Navarro hit a jumper to give Barça their biggest lead of the night at 16. Gist and Bramos hit three free throws to close out the third quarter at 38:51.

A Navarro three-pointer, followed up by a triple from Lorbek, and a deuce from the hosts’ Lasme, gave the visitors a 17-point lead, 40:57. After a five-point run by the Greens and a few baskets exchanged, Bramos sliced the net with a triple to bring Panathinaikos back to within 10, 50:60, with half the fourth quarter left to play. The hosts were able to get to within eight, but from there on out over the last five minutes the clubs countered every move the other made, and a Bramos triple closed out scoring with Barcelona taking a 60:70 win and a series knotted at two games each, back to Spain for game five. Game date and time have yet to be determined.

Navarro’s 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists led the way for Barcelona. Tomic added 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. Marcelinho Huertas contributed 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.

Bramos was team-high for Panathinaikos with 15 points. Schortsanitis added 13 points in 12 minutes, shooting 7 of 8 from the line and 3 of 5 from the floor. Lasme had a double/double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Maciulis dropped in 11 points while picking up 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

“I am so happy to go back home to play Game 5. Emotionally it was very difficult for me here, because Athens was my city for several years. I have too many friends here, I played against my previous team and the people treated me very well. But, you know, with all this familiar surroundings, every time they watched me it was like killing me softly. Finally we managed to play the best basketball in the series, but there is one game left and it is the most crucial.

“Above all, the main thing that we did is that we didn’t allow many easy points. They had to work hard for every basket. It is true that they didn’t have a good shooting night, but we didn’t have one either. We would have taken a double-digit halftime lead just by hitting some extra long-distance shots that didn’t go in. We scored in the second half and dominated the game well. We have to be more confident in Game 5 because we play at home.” — Sarunas Jasikevicius, Barcelona Regal

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