Play-Off Qualifiers preview: Partizan v PAOK
BELGRADE (Basketball Champions League) - As home-and-away Play-Off Qualifier ties go, the one between Partizan and PAOK is about as close as they come.
Partizan will start proceedings with a 2-point lead, something that can disappear immediately if Jordan Sibert starts the decisive contest the way he finished the first meeting and drills a 3-pointer.
In the opening leg, Partizan twice opened up 10-point leads, including early in the third quarter, yet PAOK didn't allow them to press home the advantage. They instead clawed the deficit back and took a 53-51 lead late in the third quarter when Sibert made his first 3-pointer of the game.
The introduction of center Uros Lukovic at the start of the fourth quarter helped Partizan get their noses back in front and they were ahead by five with 13 seconds to go after a basket by Branislav Ratkovica.
But Sibert buried his second 3-ball from the right corner right at the end of the contest to bring PAOK closer.
"One more victory in Belgrade, we'll move on but first of all, we have to understand that PAOK is coming to win as well." - Partizan point guard William Hatcher
"We've just got to keep fighting," Sibert said. "We're a great team. We know we can do better and we'll show that next game."
Sibert says that one area where PAOK will have to get better is matching the physicality of Partizan.
"They did play a physical style and it kind of took some time to adjust to it," Sibert said. "We're a much better team than what we showed."
What bodes well for PAOK ahead of the second leg is that they dug in midway through the third quarter when it seemed Partizan might be about to blow the game wide open. Sibert and Co also showed plenty of resolve in the fourth quarter.
"We just have to show the fight that we have at the end of games for the whole game," Sibert said.
Sibert elevated his game when PAOK needed it most against Partizan
PAOK showed most of their fight when Keith Clanton, Thaddus McFadden, Sibert and Zanis Peiners were on the floor so you can expect all four to get substantial minutes in Serbia.
One issue that has plagued PAOK all season and could haunt them by the end of this tie has been their inaccuracy at the free-throw line. They were just 11 of 20 at the stripe against Partizan.
Partizan weren't able to call on the services of Novica Velickovic in the opening leg, with the Serbia international injured. What saved the day was the terrific scoring effort from William Hatcher, one who isn't afraid to take big shots and looks to be the key man before the second meeting.
A former PAOK player, Hatcher erupted for 27 points against his old team and left little doubt that when the game hangs in the balance, he needs to have the ball in his hands.
Hatcher finished 10 of 17 from the floor and also had 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. What hurt Partizan were the 22 turnovers they committed. Ratkovica and Stefan Bircevic had 4 apiece and Hatcher had 3.
There were other times when Partizan simply didn't execute on offense and defense.
"At some crucial times of the game, we made a lot of mistakes," Hatcher said.
"Next game we'll have to take care of those and be a lot more focused in Belgrade. We understand this team isn't going to come to Belgrade and lay down.
"One more victory in Belgrade, we'll move on but first of all, we have to understand that PAOK is coming to win as well."