Turnovers Doom Celtics in Preseason Opener

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The Boston Celtics opened their preseason Friday night with a 97-91 upset loss to Fenerbahce Ulker of Istanbul, Turkey.

Fenerbahce played well from start to finish and enjoyed a lead for the majority of the contest. Romain Sato and Bo McCalebb led the Turkish powerhouse with 24 and 21 points apiece, respectively.

McCalebb, a speedy American point guard who has drawn serious interest from NBA teams, was excited for the opportunity to take on a storied franchise like the Celtics in an NBA Europe Live game. However, he was more concerned with righting his own team’s ship than playing a one-on-one game with Rajon Rondo.

“I kind of get pumped up when I play against any good player, not just because it’s Rondo,” McCalebb said. “It was nothing personal, we just wanted to come out and do something positive after the loss we sustained yesterday.”

Fenerbahce came out of the gates hot and hit six of its first nine field goal attempts. That, combined with two free throws, allowed the team to jump out to an early 18-8 lead.

The Celtics, meanwhile, struggled mightily on the other side of the ball. Their offense was sloppy, to say the least, as the team committed 14 turnovers in the first half of the game.

“Our goal was 14 (turnovers) and we had that at halftime,” said Doc Rivers. “So I had to explain to the guys that I didn’t mean 14 in a half, I meant 14 for the game. That was just sloppy.”

The sloppiness came to a head in the second quarter. Ten of those 14 turnovers in the first half took place in the second period, with Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic each committing a pair. Fenerbahce was able to take advantage of the turnovers and flipped a one-point deficit after the first quarter into a 55-45 lead at halftime.

Boston’s deficit fluctuated between six points and 11 points for the entirety of the third period. Rondo scored Boston’s final seven points of the quarter in s span of just 96 seconds, but a 3-pointer by Bojan Bogdanovic helped Fenerbahce overcome Rondo’s run and hold onto a 79-72 lead at the end of the third stanza. Rivers pretty much called off the dogs at that point, resting all five of his starters and Terry for nearly the entire fourth quarter, but the Celtics made a run nonetheless. Jeff Green, playing alongside four rookies, had a phenomenal fourth quarter. He scored 11 points in the frame in a variety of ways, from drives to the basket to mid-range jumpers. Green scored all 11 of those points in succession, culminating with a jumper at the 1:19 mark to cut Fenerbahce’s lead to 94-91.

But as it did all night long, Fenerbahce made big shots at big times. Sato nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner on the next possession to double his team’s lead up to six points with only 1:04 remaining on the clock. Both teams went scoreless for the remainder of the contest and Fenerbahce held on for a 97-91 win.

Turkish media will likely latch onto this story and call it an incredible accomplishment for its team, and it is, but the C’s played far below the level that they will in the coming days, weeks and months. Rivers understands that this was his team’s first opportunity to play against an opponent. He had realistic expectations, and a loss to a very, very good Fenerbahce team won’t cause him to worry. Not this early.

“It’s one game,” he said, shaking off the notion of “cringing” at anything his players did tonight. “If we play like this in April we won’t make it to May. But I don’t think we should worry about that today.”

Today, the Celtics can pull the positive signs out of this loss. Sullinger and Green came off of the bench to tie for the team-high in scoring with 16 points apiece. Sullinger also led the team in rebounds with eight. Additionally, Rondo racked up 13 points and nine assists in 30 minutes of action.

As you can see, not everything was negative during this unexpected loss in Istanbul. The Celtics will have an opportunity to clean up their act and capitalize on those positives Sunday night in Milan, Italy, against Emporio Armani. This Italian team is not as strong as Fenerbahce, but Boston now understands that it will need to take care of the ball and execute in order to head back to the States with a split.