Celtics

4 takeaways from the Celtics’ season-opening loss to the Sixers

There were some things to like.

Ben Simmons defends Jayson Tatum.

COMMENTARY

The shots weren’t falling for the Celtics Wednesday night, not from midrange, not from behind the arc, and not from the free-throw line. 

“It was just one of them nights,” forward Jayson Tatum said. 

In their season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics shot 36.7 percent from the field, 26.9 percent from three, and 58.8 percent from the line. The less-than-optimal performance thwarted any semblance of a comeback, as the Sixers never trailed in the second half and led by double digits for much of the fourth quarter. 

Boston pulled within four points with just under 10 minutes remaining, but back-to-back threes from Furkan Korkmaz and Tobias Harris proved to be a turning point. The 76ers pressed on for a 107-93 victory, their fourth regular-season win against the Celtics in the teams’ past 13 games.

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Still, coach Brad Stevens said he came away feeling “a lot more encouraged than discouraged.” Echoing the sentiment of multiple players, Stevens said he thought the team generated solid looks in spite of their low conversion rate. 

“I thought we really came out and fought,” he said. 

Here’s what we learned. 

Jayson Tatum should be stepping up.

Tatum’s first shot of the game was a 17-foot fadeaway jumper. It missed.

He proceeded to start 0-for-4, missing a three-pointer as well as a pair of layups on two strong takes to the basket. The slow start did not plague the rest of his night, however, as the 21-year-old stayed aggressive and true to his intention to attempt mainly threes and layups. He finished the night with 21 points on 8-for-22 shooting, including 4-for-8 from behind the arc. Eight of his attempts came at the rim and another eight came from downtown. 

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Tatum acknowledged after the game he missed some shots that he would normally make but seemed happy with his ability to get to the spots he wanted. Stevens called Tatum “really aggressive” and “really assertive.” 

“It just wasn’t going in,” Tatum said.

The only Celtic to play the entire first quarter, Tatum attempted nine of the team’s 23 shots during that time, and finished with a team-high 73 touches in a team-high 37 minutes. His offensive involvement is certainly important to the Celtics, but his efficiency will have to be better moving forward. 

Kemba Walker left disappointed after his Celtics debut. 

Walker’s 4-for-18 night was one to be forgotten, as the new point guard couldn’t seem to get anything going in his first game with the Celtics. 

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He flashed the traits that make him an exciting addition, highlighted by a nifty crossover that beat Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle in the second quarter, but often came up empty-handed. Walker said he “felt good” and called his misses “routine shots, shots that I’ve been making, shots that I’ve been making my whole career.” He finished with 12 points and two assists. 

“I thought I got my shots, the shots I normally take,” Walker said. “I feel like I got to my spots, I just missed.” 

He expressed optimism moving forward, noting that the group is still building chemistry. Stevens, too, seems to be tinkering with which lineups are most effective, trotting out a number of combinations. 

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“We’re still learning each other,” he said. “I know we’ve been through preseason and stuff like that, but it takes time for teams to really come together and get better and be in rhythm. So, Game 1, obviously it sucks that we lost, but I think we’re still extremely confident.”

The center-by-committee strategy could have gone worse. 

After coming off the bench throughout the preseason, Enes Kanter earned the start and logged the most minutes among the team’s options at center. Faced with the task of containing 76ers big man Joel Embiid, Kanter held his own throughout the first half and earned praise from both Stevens and teammate Gordon Hayward. 

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“I thought Kanter was great,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a really good job in isolation and allowed us not to double because when we did, we left the rim occasionally.” 

The showing was encouraging, given that Boston’s ability to replace the interior defensive prowess of Al Horford and Aron Baynes was a top concern this offseason. Embiid had a quiet first half, shooting 3-for-9 with four of his misses coming outside of the paint. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. 

Robert Williams and Daniel Theis split the remaining minutes, as new center Vincent Poirier was the only active Celtic to not get in the game. Williams seemed much more comfortable compared to his jittery preseason debut, and spiced up the highlight reel with a high-flying alley-oop dunk and an authoritative swat of a Ben Simmons jump hook. What was particularly impressive about the block was Williams’s awareness to help from the opposite side of the charge circle.

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Stevens did note Kanter is “a little banged up” but did not indicate how that impacts his availability for the home-opener Friday against Toronto. 

At least the Celtics are getting to the line, even if the shots aren’t going in. 

The Celtics missed 14 free throws, going 20-for-34 from the line. 

“That can’t happen,” said Hayward, who was the player that got to the line the most, making nine of his 11 attempts. 

The silver lining is that the Celtics got to line 34 times, which would have ranked third last season for the team’s highest number of free-throw attempts in a game. That being said, the frequent trips could have been an anomaly, as both teams combined for an egregious 63 fouls.

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