These Turkish teams are not to be taken lightly. Despite a
warning from Dionte Christmas, an alumnus of the Turkish Basketball League,
that Fenerbahce Ulker would be no pushover, the Celtics never seemed able to
get in rhythm on Friday. Boston's first exhibition foe of the 2012-13 season
controlled the pace of the game, got to the free throw line more effectively
and protected the basketball much better than the Celtics.
The first unit's struggles were odd, if not especially
worrisome, given the amount of playing time they received. It stood to reason
that the starters would play the majority of the first quarter to work up a
sweat and to give the fans at Ulker Sports Arena in Istanbul a chance to see
some of the NBA's stars in action, but Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Courtney
Lee played far more than token minutes. Rondo clocked in with more than 30
minutes of action, and all five Boston starters except Kevin Garnett logged at
least 19 minutes.
Fenebahce won 97-91 regardless, largely by riding point
guard Bo McCalebb's expert running of the pick and roll. McCalebb even made
Rondo look lost defensively at times, although it should be noted that Rondo
spent much of the time trying to defend the play without Garnett on the floor.
(Garnett and Rondo are among the best at defending the pick and roll.)
Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger provided a few bright spots,
while Lee's play can only be described as awful. That is why they play these
preseason games, though, to iron out the kinks.
SULLINGER MUSCLES IN
When the Celtics nabbed Sullinger with the 21st pick in the draft, they needed
only point to their 38.8 rebounds per game average, the worst in the NBA. The
space-clearing power forward out of Ohio State was billed as an immediate cure
to that problem, and he demonstrated his ability on Friday. Sullinger hauled in
a game-high eight rebounds, five of which came on the offensive glass. Without
his contributions, the Celtics would not have won the rebounding battle 37-32.
He also matched Green's team-leading 16 points, but everybody knew Sullinger
could score and rebound.
The big minus for Sullinger (apart from his rumored
back issue) was that he was not an instinctive help defender, and he struggled
with that area a couple of times in Istanbul. Most noticeably, Sullinger's
lateness in rotating to help defend a pick and roll let McCalebb sprint freely
to the basket, where he converted an and-one layup. Sullinger's rebounding will
help, but he will need to improve his defense if he is to truly help the
Celtics this season.
GREEN CLOSES OUT
Down by as many as a dozen points, the Celtics finally seemed to surrender in
the fourth quarter. Celtics coach Doc Rivers went with an all-reserve lineup
that included Jamar Smith and Dionte Christmas, which is sort of like waving
the white flag, but then Green went to work. Green scored 11 of his 16 points
in the final quarter and hit a driving bank shot to pull Boston within three
points with 1:19 remaining.
Then Romain Sato, who was 4-for-4 from distance, drilled a
3-pointer and the Celtics' loss was clinched. Green's success with what
amounted to the third unit was encouraging, though, as it showed that Rivers
can run the offense through the versatile forward. Green is an excellent
passer, as he showed by finding Sullinger for a layup along the baseline, and
it a strong ballhandler for a forward and a decent finisher.
RONDO STANDS OUT WHILE FALLING SHORT
Rondo showed up strongly in the box score, as usual,
using a strong start to compile a stat line of 13 points, nine assists and
three steals. He committed five turnovers, though, contributing to the Celtics'
ugly 25-turnover effort. (Fenerbahce committed only 16 turnovers.) He also
struggled to contain McCalebb either off the dribble or on the pick and roll,
but that may have had more to do with Fab Melo and Sullinger's newness to the
Celtics' defensive system. If Rondo plans to be the leader he says he wants to
be, he will need to work with the young big men to keep opponents from
capitalizing on the drop-off when Garnett leaves the court.
LEE FOULS OUT
Lee needed less than a full quarter to pick up five personal fouls, proving
that the new shooting guard's transition into the starting lineup will not be
seamless. (He picked up No. 6 in the fourth quarter.) Lee appeared to defend with his hands instead of his feet, a habit
that has been more prominent since he left Orlando four years ago. He also had
a tough time offensively, shooting just 2-for-6 from the field. As he becomes
more comfortable with Rondo and the rest of the starters, the Celtics hope Lee
improves those things.