When you say someone is in “preseason form,” that usually isn’t meant as a compliment.
An exception can be made Saturday night for Evan Turner.
Pressed into taking the reins as the Boston Celtics’ starting point guard, all Turner did was play by far his best game in a Celtics uniform. He led all Boston scorers with 19 points, dished out six assists and grabbed five rebounds — all season highs — to help lead his team to an unexpected 106-101 win over the Chicago Bulls.
The win — the second in two nights — gave Boston its first winning streak of the season.
“The biggest thing is, we won two games on a back-to-back,” Turner told CSNNE’s Abby Chin in his postgame interview. “That shows our capabilities mentally.”
Turner spent significant minutes at the point guard position during his first preseason with the Celtics — an adjustment necessitated by Rajon Rondo’s broken hand — and exceeded most Celtics fans’ admittedly rock-bottom expectations. Then, the regular season started, Rondo returned and Turner largely disappeared.
The swingman put up respectable stats in a regular season-opening win over the Brooklyn Nets, but he accounted for half as many turnovers (seven) as points (14) over his next three games — all Celtics losses.
Turner did seem to find a new focus Friday against the Indiana Pacers, going 4-for-7 from the floor with just one turnover against his former team, and after learning the Celtics would be traveling to Chicago without both Rondo and rookie Marcus Smart, he proved to be a more-than-capable replacement.
Some of biggest contributions came in the game’s final minutes as Chicago whittled a 19-point Celtics advantage all the way down to two. Turner sank a baseline jumper with 1:49 remaining to snap a three-plus minute scoreless drought, then hit two big free throws with 17 seconds to play to give the Celtics a two-possession lead they would not relinquish.
Turner’s successful transition to a full-time point guard — at least for one night — did not come as a huge surprise to Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who’s said for weeks that he thinks Turner is better with the ball in his hand than without it.
“My only advice to him before the game was when you’re running the point, you have to get people into things and then you get it back,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “When you’re off the ball, you have to have more of that idea of what’s coming next, and being able to make a play for somebody or score it or whatever the case may be. But when you’re at the point, you have some organizational responsibilities.
“So, he did a good job of that. He was in his hometown, and I think his time at the point in the preseason benefited him.”
Thumbnail photo via Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports Images