ISTANBUL — It became apparent Friday evening at the Ulker Sports Arena that the Celtics weren’t cohesive or energetic enough to overcome their hot-shooting opponents from the host country. Six days of practice were not enough to build such chemistry.
So the night became about development, and coach Doc Rivers allowed two of his reserves to play heavy minutes and gain confidence.
Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger combined for 32 points and 12 rebounds, but the Celtics lost their preseason opener, 97-91, to Fenerbahce Ulker in front of 12,191 at the sparkling venue.
The Celtics led, 27-26, at end of the first quarter, but Fenerbahce Ulker ended the half on an 8-2 run for a 10-point lead and never trailed again. The Celtics made a series of runs but the Turkish League favorites kept staving off those rallies with critical shots.
Former Xavier guard Romain Sato led Fenerbahce Ulker with 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting, while point guard Bo McCalebb added 21 points and five assists.
Rivers limited Kevin Garnett to 15 minutes and he scored 6 points, while Paul Pierce scored 8 in 26 minutes. Boston committed 25 turnovers, leading to 23 Fenerbahce Ulker points.
“I don’t think we’d be very good turning the ball over 25 times,” Rivers said. “Our goal is 14 — we had that at halftime. So I had to explain to the guys, I didn’t mean 14 at half. I meant 14 for the game.”
Rivers said he didn’t see anything discouraging about the effort besides the expected mistakes.
Green, meanwhile, played in his first game in 16 months after surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm cost him all of last season. He looked comfortable, in good condition, and smooth with the ball.
“I was tired, but it felt good just to play again,” Green said. “I’m happy. I got the first one out the way. Things were pretty good. I had a good rhythm, a good flow. I was a little happy with my performance.”
Said Rivers, “He was comfortable, played with great speed. You can see he played well at the 3 and the 4, which was great. The last time he struggled is when we switched him back and forth. Obviously we’re starting to figure out his game as well, so that helped.”
FrancisRicciardone, the US Ambassador to Turkey and a graduate of Malden Catholic High School, attended the game sporting a Pierce jersey. Ricciardone, who has been ambassador since 2010, was pleased with the international exposure Istanbul received from the Celtics’ visit.
“I was so happy when I found out the Celtics were coming here,” he said. “I think it’s a good showcase for the city and the country. Istanbul is a wonderful city and has so much to offer and I am glad the NBA decided to come here.”
Ricciardone said Turkey and the Boston area have a bond because of the amount of Turkish students who attend Boston-area colleges.
“I think people are learning more about the country and its educational resources,” he said. “I think Istanbul has more to offer than a lot of those other big European cities and I think it takes people visiting and seeing firsthand to find that out.”
Sitting it out
Chris Wilcox, Avery Bradley, and Micah Downs did not play, although they were dressed and introduced to the fans before the game . . . Fenerbahce Ulker also played Thursday, losing to Galatasaray Medical Park, 74-69. Fenerbahce Ulker begins its regular-season schedule Oct. 11 against BC Khimki . . . Darko Milicic was impressive in his 16-minute stint with six rebounds and two blocks.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.