ISTANBUL (NBA/Euroleague) - It never gets old seeing cross-Atlantic battles between European clubs and NBA outfits.
This year’s NBA Europe Live and Euroleague American Tour clashes provided further evidence, if any was needed, that players and teams on the old continent can be tough opponents for NBA sides in the month of October.
Both Fenerbahce Ulker and Barcelona, who open their Turkish Airlines Euroleague accounts this week, won games against NBA opponents that are dusting off the summer cobwebs and preparing for the new season in North America.
Fener, now led by Italy’s national team coach Simone Pianigiani, defeated the Boston Celtics, 97-91, on 5 October in the Sinan Erdem Dome, the venue for the 2010 FIBA World Championship, while Xavi Pascual’s Barcelona, losers of their first two games in Spain’s Liga Endesa, overcame the Dallas Mavericks four days later, 99-85, at the Palau Sant Jordi.
Fener’s triumph left everyone in the Turkish side’s camp in a good mood.
"It was a great experience for both my team and the fans to host one of the legendary teams of the NBA, the Boston Celtics,” Pianigiani said.
“It was great to see the fans and the players and everybody enjoying the game. Honestly, I don't prefer to talk about the game. It's because both teams were not ready for the season and this was not the real face of both sides.
“What is important to see that there were many children and young people in Ulker Sports Arena tonight, watching this exciting game and show. It was a very special night for me and I'm also proud of to be a part of this great show.”
Lightning quick Bo McCalebb, an all-tournament selection for The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (MKD) at EuroBasket 2011, was terrific for his new club Fener, pouring in 21 points.
Europe is accustomed to watching a speedy McCalebb.
He’s had huge games in the past with Partizan Belgrade and Montepaschi Siena, and it looks as if it will be more of the same in Turkey.
"The reason I played good tonight is not that the game was televised in the States and it was not who was playing against me, Rajon Rondo,” he said.
“When I play against any good player, I try to give my best. It's not personal.”
Pianigiani, who steered Italy to eight wins in as many Qualification Round games for next year’s EuroBasket in Slovenia, said the “different rules and different habits” makes it difficult to compare the European and American games.
However, he went on: “For sure the level of the players in Europe now and the level of the Euroleague teams are so high now. There is good competition.
“The level is high in Europe and the fans should recognize [their players] as top players."
Celtics captain Paul Pierce called Istanbul a “beautiful city”, and praised the play of Fener.
“They have a really good basketball team,” he said.
“I thought that was obvious, as we saw tonight, they have good players.
“McCalebb did a good job of controlling the pace and getting his teammates the ball. (Romain) Sato shot the ball really well, too. My hat's off to them. They really played a good game."
Sato, who competed for the Central African Republic at Afrobasket 2009, is a former player of Pianigiani’s at Montepaschi and two seasons ago he captured a Euroleague title with Panathinaikos.
Boston bounced back and won decisively two days later at EA7 Emporio Armani, 105-75.
With Germany great Dirk Nowitzki in their line-up on 6 October, the Dallas Mavericks defeated Alba Berlin 89-84 in their NBA Europe Live clash.
Sasa Obradovic’s Alba forced the Mavs to commit 27 turnovers and his guard, Germany national team co-captain Heiko Schaffartzik, had flashes of terrific play with his passing. It seemed at times, though, that the fans were most interested in seeing their basketball icon Nowitzki in action.
"It was weird that so many people in the audience cheered for the opposing team,” Schaffartzik said.
“This usually does not happen here.
“But for us, it was fun to play this game, which for me was the first time that I played in such an NBA event against NBA players.”
Schaffartzik had to pinch himself because it was strange being on the same floor as some of the biggest names in the NBA the past decade.
“This was a weird experience for me,” he said.
“As soon as you're on the court against a guy like Vince Carter, he is only the opposing man who is shooting good threes and not the guy you only know from TV."
Dallas did not have it their own way against Barcelona in their next game on 9 October, with Spain superstar and EuroBasket 2011 MVP Juan Carlos Navarro returning to his team’s line-up and helping the Catalan outfit win against an NBA side for the third time in their history.
Navarro had been sidelined with foot and back problems but the former Memphis Grizzlies guard not only played but poured in 19 points and that bodes well for Barca ahead of their Euroleague opener on Friday at home to Brose Baskets Bamberg.
“Navarro is a great finisher and he allowed us to get the lead,” Pascual said.
“He is a very important player for us, making us flow better on offense with his scoring skills.”
Joe Ingles of Australia, who had an excellent Olympics with the Boomers, also excelled against the Mavs with Nowitzki unable to play because of a swollen knee.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who has so much respect for Barcelona that he likened it to “an NBA team”, said: "First of all, FC Barcelona Regal is a great basketball team, very well coached.
“I admire the way they moved the ball, pass, cut, screen and make plays. It was tremendous.”
Nando De Colo of France has been playing to rave reviews for San Antonio and he wowed the fans in a 106-77 victory over Montepaschi Siena.
In less than 15 minutes, De Colo showed his slick passing skills against Mens Sana.
“Nando,” Spurs teammate Stephen Jackson said, “is another Manu Ginobili.”
De Colo had three assists but could have had at least three more because his teammates weren’t ready for some of his best passes.
“We must just need to practice together and to know each other,” De Colo said. “All the team knows what they must do. I am the only new one on the team so I must do my job with respect for the team and we will see.”
That contest with Montepaschi was on Saturday in San Antonio, while on Wednesday evening and in front of the home fans again in a clash with Atlanta, De Colo had 11 points, nine assists and a game-winning jumper with 0.6 seconds to go in a 101-99 triumph.
"I try to respect what the team wants and what the coaches want,” he said.
“Step by step, it will be easier for me to put my game on the court."
Montepaschi fell in their second Euroleague American Tour game, 91-85, at Cleveland, despite getting 14 points and five assists from Italy international Daniel Hackett.
Real Madrid had a couple of Euroleague American Tour games, falling at Memphis, 105-93, and then losing 102-95 at Toronto.
Spain’s Jose Calderon, getting a chance to face a Madrid side he knows very well after competing against them during his days with Baskonia (Caja Laboral), had nine points and eight assists.
Two nights before in the defeat to Memphis, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol had 16 points and 16 rebounds with is fellow Spain international Rudy Fernandez, a former NBA player himself with Portland and Denver, scoring 16 for Madrid.