BOLOGNA - Yugoslav guard Dejan Bodiroga pumped in 26 points on Friday and lifted Panathinaikos of Athens into the Euroleague basketball final with an 83-75 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In today's grand finale of the Final Four, the showcase event of European basketball, the Greek team will play Kinder Bologna, which beat fellow Italians Benetton Treviso 90-82 in the second semifinal.
The Greek team got the decisive points in the last quarter from Bodiroga, Damir Mulaomerovic and Lazaros Papadopoulos.
Panathinaikos and Maccabi were tied 44-44 at halftime.
Bodiroga gave his team a 65-60 lead with a three-pointer and added two points on a fast counter-attack to make it 69-64.
Papadopoulos, the Greek center, stretched the Panathinaikos lead to eight points, scoring a two-point basket and adding a free throw.
Mulaomerovic sealed victory for the Greeks, scoring three points (80-72) with one minute left.
Friday's victory at the Palamalaguti sports palace avenged Panathinaikos' loss to Maccabi in last year's final of the Suproleague.
Today's final between the 2001 Euroleague champion and the losing finalist of last year's Suproleague, a rival competition, will mark the reunification of the top European basketball club competitions.
Kinder's Marko Jaric scored 18 points, including decisive baskets in the closing minutes, as Benetton was trying to close in.
Kinder avenged three consecutive losses to Benetton in league games this season, prevailing in the last quarter after trailing its Italian rival in the first quarter (23-26) and at halftime (39-41).
David Andersen and French veteran guard Antoine Rigaudeau supported Jaric's efforts, while center Rashard Griffith missed four consecutive free throws after keeping Bologna afloat in the first part of the game.
Guards Charlie Bell and Tyus Edney scored 19 points each for Benetton.
There was mild disappointment in the Maccabi locker room after the loss, but it not more than that.
Coach David Blatt praised his opposite number Zelimir Obradovic just a few minutes earlier. "Panathinaikos was better this evening and it was a just victory. I have no complaints. The main difference between the sides was more aggressive defense by Panathinaikos and their high percentage of successful three-point shots," Blatt said.
The Greeks were successful on 50 percent of their three-point shots (8-16), while Maccabi was abysmal from the free-throw line, making only 60 percent of its attempts.
Blatt also singled out Bodiroga for praise. "He is still the best player in Europe, and tonight, we didn't have the means to stop Bodiroga," the Maccabi coach said.
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