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Against one of his beloved former teams, Panathinaikos, coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and Barcelona needed the road win and got just that.
Thanks to 26 points by Nikola Mirotic, a personal season-high of 16 points by Mike Tobey, and nine by Cory Higgins which included the shot which finally tipped the balance in favor of the Catalans, Barcelona prevailed 88-74, having now a 20-10 record, good enough at least for the third spot of the standings.
“It’s all about my teammates who are passing me the ball, I am just trying to deliver my best game and today was a great moment, cause I love to play here, in OAKA”, said Mirotic after the game.
“We knew that it was going to be a battle”, he added while Barcelona mathematically secured the playoffs, but as Mirotic explained, “we have bigger goals obviously, we need to stay humble, we need to keep working and this is how it should be”.
Thomas Satoransky also had a great game flirting with a triple-double, and having eight points, nine rebounds, and nine assists with just one turnover.
Satoransky joked about his performance after the game with a nod to the whole debate about Nikola Jokic’s stats on his quest to be again the NBA MVP: “They just told me, it was without stats-padding, I didn’t know about those numbers. But I am extremely happy that we won the game”.
On a more serious note, the Czech guard added: “We expected it to be a well-fought game. I think they came out with a lot of energy and good execution. We didn’t hit some open shots and it was tougher at the beginning, but I think we reacted well, Mike Tobey played great and gave us a little push, and Nikola Mirotic in the second half as well. I am happy to get a win in the EuroLeague, it is always special.”
The Greens tried their best but…
Panathinaikos which was missing injured Dwayne Bacon and Mateusz Ponitka put up a fight, leading 25-22 after the first quarter. However, Barcelona got a solid 43-36 halftime lead and things seem to be over.
Still, the hosts didn’t give up. They trailed by five (65-60) just before the end of the third and by six (68-62) at the start of the fourth period. However, they missed two chances to get closer and after a three by George Papagiannis (73-67) and one by Paris Lee, they made it again a 5-point game (75-70) with four minutes left.
However, Mirotic had the answers and also Mike Tobey with a three made the score 83-72. With Panathinaikos still trying to complete their comeback, Higgins made one more big shot (86-73) and the game was over.
Papagiannis with 19 points, including 2/3 threes and seven rebounds was the top player on the losing side which was already out of the playoffs race mathematically, having a 10-20 record.
For Barcelona, the situation is quite different as coach Sarunas Jasikevicius said after his team mathematically qualified for the playoffs: “It is obviously the first objective of the season, there’s no question. We need to try for more, that’s for sure. I thought we found the hot person. I thought at first, Mike [Tobey] kind of gave us a boost and then obviously, Niko [Mirotic] had a huge third quarter and fourth also, he played really well. Okay, we solved it with a little bit of shooting. It wasn’t pretty out there for some moments.”