In a high-scoring, overtime thriller, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens finished third in the Kaunas editions of the WE’RE BACK PRESEASON TOUR by downing ALBA Berlin 102-110 on Sunday. Marcus Foster led the winners with 29 points on 7-of-9 three-point shooting. Ioannis Papapetrou and Nemanja Nedovic added 19 points each while Zach Auguste had 12 for Panathinaikos. Johannes Theimann led ALBA with 21 points. Maodo Lo added 17, Niels Giffey and Luke Sikma 14, while Peyton Siva and Jayson Granger scored 13 apiece. Panathinaikos led 23-26 lead after 10 minutes, and even though ALBA regain the lead at 34-33, an unstoppable Foster put Panathinaikos up 43-49 at halftime and 65-68 after 30 minutes. Siva gave ALBA a 92-91 lead in the game’s 40th minute but Papapetrou sent the game to overtime from the foul line. Foster took over then, leading Panathinaikos to a hard-fought win.
Thiemann, Siva and Lo each struck from downtown to give ALBA an early 9-6 lead. Georgios Papagiannis and Ben Bentil dunked, then Foster gave Panathinaikos its first lead, 14-15. The Greens found new go-to guys in Papapetrou and Nedovic, who extended their team’s lead to 23-26 at the end of the first quarter. Leonidas Kaselakis and Nedovic each buried a triple to make it a six-point game, 25-31, early in the second quarter. Sikma dunked off a steal and ALBA started to find easy points through backdoor cuts and two-on-two situations. Siva buried one from beyond the arc to restore a 34-33 ALBA edge. Foster rescued Panathinaikos with a couple of three-pointers, Papagiannis scored twice in the paint, and a huge dunk by Auguste allowed the Greens to regain a 43-49 lead at halftime. Foster stayed unstoppable after the break, singlehandedly keeping Panathinaikos in charge, 50-53. Siva managed to tie the game, 56-56, but Georgios Kalaitzakis and Nedovic answered to give their team a 65-68 margin after 30 minutes. Theimann tried to change things for ALBA early in the fourth quarter but Auguste and Nedovic kept Panathinaikos fully in charge, 71-77. ALBA found a go-to guy in Granger, who followed a jumper with a step-back triple that made his team get an 80-79 edge. The game turned into a thriller when Papapetrou tied it with a three-pointer, 89-89, in the next-to-last minute. Bentil scored down low but Siva did better with a three-pointer for a 92-91 ALBA edge. Papapetrou split free throws with 6.7 seconds left in regulation, sending the game to overtime. Foster took over early in overtime but Siva and Theimann helped ALBA tie it again, 99-99. Jackson hit a critical three-pointer and Foster added another one from downtown to seal the outcome, 99-105, as ALBA never recovered.
Both teams shot well from three-point range but only Panathinaikos did much better inside the arc. The Greens downed 26-of-39 two-point shots (66.7%) and limited ALBA to just 22-of-41 attempts (53.7%). Panathinaikos was slightly better free throw percentage (86.7% to 76.2%), as well. A key defensive stop late in regulation time allowed Panathinaikos to force overtime and rely on Foster to make the difference.
Gone but not forgotten
Aaron White was awarded a warm ovation by the Kaunas crowd in the pre-game ceremony, when he entered the game, and every time he scored. White helped Zalgiris reach the EuroLeague Final Four in 2018 and the playoffs in 2019. The Zalgiris fans made White feel like the only local player in the third place game.
Welcome back, Jayson
“Even though it’s preseason, I’m happy to be back in a EuroLeague game after almost two years,” guard Jayson Granger said after ALBA’s first game on Saturday. He proved that he is physically in shape by playing more than 22 minutes in the second game of back-to-back showdowns. Granger’s last official EuroLeague game had been on December 20, 2018, with his former team, TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Foster, scoring machine
Foster was unstoppable for the better part of the game, hitting 7 of his first 8 shots, including 4 perfect bombs from downtown. He was also Panathinaikos’s decisive factor in overtime. Indeed, he has been a great scorer throughout his short, promising professional career, scoring over 20 points per game with DB Promy of South Korea and Hapoel Holon of Israel. Foster has now joined forces with Nemanja Nedovic and Pierre Jackson in an explosive Panathinaikos backcourt. He won’t be flying under the radar any longer, however, after needing just 13 attempts to score 29 points on 4-for-5 two-point and 7-for-8 three-point shooting.
Panathinaikos OPAP Athens head coach Georgios Vovoras:
“We changed a lot of things from our game yesterday. I want to give credit to our players because in the morning, in our meeting, we gave emphasis to some details that we needed to change in this game. And we made a very good job on this part. Again, there is one thing that we need to improve, and that is our turnovers. If you want to win EuroLeague games, especially away, you must control the turnovers, and it is something that we still must work on. Turnovers can kill one team. But I ant to congratulate my players because of their mentality. For 45 minutes, they fought, put the ball in their hands and played aggressive, and this is what we always have to keep in our game. And game by game, we will see our improvement. This is the only way to work, and use these games to help us improve the details.”
Panathinaikos OPAP Athens forward Ioannis Papapetrou:
“Before I start, I want to say we are very happy to be here. It is great to see a small portion of fans in the arena and we hope that everything will get better and will have everybody involved when the season starts. As far as the game, we had a tough loss yesterday. We wanted to bounce back and play better today. I think we gave a good effort. We tried, with a new team, with a very low average of age, but I think everybody gave his best energy, approached the game the correct way. we made a lot of mistakes we need to correct but a win is a win and we need to keep improving. It is too early for the season.”
Panathinaikos OPAP Athens guard Marcus Foster:
“We just saw our mistakes from yesterday and applied them to the game today. We played better than we did yesterday. I think that today, we were a lot more patient on the offensive end. I think I am blending in just right. My game is always scoring, so I think I had a couple of big games but right now, I am working on the little things, trying to be 100% on defense every possession and doing whatever my team needs to win.”
ALBA Berlin head coach Aito Garcia Reneses:
“We knew we were going to play extra time because with Panathinaikos, we always play extra time! In this opportunity, they beat us but last year, we beat them in Athens, but with extra time, every time. And they were very good, with high percentages in the last minutes, to score three-pointers, beating us easily in this extra time. However, I am not unhappy because we know that we are not ready yet and don’t have all of our players ready. I hope that, little by little, we are going to improve and I accept today’s game. We had difficuties and Panathinaikos played very well, too. I demand to improve on everything: scoring, rebounding, defense, and it is not easy to say this. I prefer to analyse the situation because we don’t have the normal situation. I hope (to have) the rotations we are going to have and I understand that we gave our maximum considering this situation.”
ALBA Berlin center Johannes Thiemann:
“I think it was a hard-fought game. It was really tough and I think that in the end, we didn’t have the energy to finish the game, especially because we were missing a couple of players. We couldn’t play the rotation, like Aito (Garcia Reneses) said. But in general, I think we played a good game. Of course, we got a lot to improve but it is still pre-season, and we hope we are ready for the season.”