Fenerbahce holds on to beat Zvezda
Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul started a new era under Sasa Djordjevic in style on Friday, acing their season opener with a hard-fought 61-57 victory over visiting Crvena Zvezda MTS Belgrade. Fenerbahce rocketed to a 14-0 start and held Zvezda scoreless for 5 minutes, but the game devolved into a defensive battle. The visitors took brief leads and were still within 51-49 with 3 minutes left, before Dyshawn Pierre and Nando De Colo put away the win. Pierre led the winners with 13 points as Fenerbahce's sole double-digit scorer. Devin Booker added 8 points and 9 rebounds for the winners, while Pierria Henry had 6 assists and 5 steals. Nikola Ivanovic came off the bench to score 16 points for Zvezda, while Nikola Kalinic and Nate Wolters added 9 each.
Henry fed Jan Vesely for a layup off the opening tip and Marial Shayok for a dunk following his second steal. Booker's 4 points soon had Fenerbahce up 8-0 with 2 minutes gone. The hosts had 7 steals in 5 minutes to lead 14-0 before Kalinic's fastbreak layup got Zvezda's first points. He and Ognjen Kuzmic filled an 0-8 response to get the guests within 14-8. Pierre and Ivanovic traded layups before Kalinic hit the game's first three-pointer at 16-13. Ahmet Duverioglu and Stefan Lazarevic finished the quarter at 18-15. Ivanovic's triple early in the second quarter got Zvezda within 21-20 and its defense held until Wolters gave the visitors their first lead. Melih Mahmutoglu responded for Fenerbahce at 24-22 and Booker exploded a dunk. Points remained scarce, but Kalinic found a layup and Ivanovic free throws for a 26-26 tie. A jumper by Vesely fell to leave Fenerbahce with a 28-26 halftime lead.
Luka Mitrovic tied it with his first basket after halftime and then Austin Hollins buried a fastbreak triple as Zvezda went ahead 28-31. Henry got a layup back but both defenses took over the middle of the third quarter until Pierre shot Fenerbahce back in front from deep and Vesely finished a fastbreak at 35-31. Wolters returned with a pair of layups around Pierre's lane jumper and a free throw by De Colo for his first point after almost 20 minutes on the court. Pierre fed Achille Polonara, who then buried a triple to put Fenerbahce up by double digits before Kuzmic tipped in a miss before the buzzer sounded with a 45-37 score after 30 minutes. Wolters opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play and fed Lazarevic to get Zvezda back within 45-42. Ismet Akpinar and Vesely lengthened the lead but Ivanovic's three-point play kept Zvezda close, 49-47. Free throws by Polonara were answered long after by Hollins breaking away for a layup at 51-49. After a timeout with 3 minutes left, De Colo fed Pierre for a rocking baseline dunk and then poured in his first 5 points from the field at 58-49. Ivanovic replied from deep for Zvezda, but Henry matched him going into the final minute, which was just enough to seal the deal for Fenerbahce.
In a defensive struggle, Fenerbahce's Dyshawn Pierre was the game's first double-digit scorer in the next-to-last minute of the third quarter, but his defense all night was pivotal and his mighty dunk near the end finally shook off the challenge by Zvezda on a night when baskets never came easy. He finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds and a PIR of 19, the best for the winners.
Pierria Henry marked his Fenerbahce debut with 5 steals and the team's total of 14 marked its best in more than a decade, superseded only by 15 in a 79-95 overtime win at CSKA Moscow on December 23, 2016. On Friday, 7 of Fenerbahce's steals came in the game's first 5 minutes.
An icon's victorious return
Fenerbahce's victory marked the return of an icon in European basketball to the winner's circle in the EuroLeague. Djordjevic made his name as a player with a game-winning shot in Istanbul for the EuroLeague title with Partizan Belgrade in 1992. His debut EuroLeague game as a coach in Turkey was successful, too, marking his first EuroLeague win since April 1, 2016, when he coached Panathinaikos over Cedevita. Djordjevic raised his EuroLeague career record to 18-13.
It was 51-49 with 3:05 left when Nando De Colo came back on the floor and fed Pierre for his super dunk before stepping out to the three-point line and hitting his first field goal all night. De Colo had but 1 point and missed a free throw, a true rarity, in more than 20 minutes of play until then, but now he added a jumper to make it 58-49 with 1:21 to play, effectively ending Zvezda's game-long challenge.
Fenerbahce takes to the road in Round 2 to face Panathinaikos Athens next Thursday, while Zvezda stays away from home to try its luck in Israel against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv the same night.
Friday, October 1, 2021