BOSTON – It wasn’t pretty early, but the Boston Celtics recovered from a slow start to cruise to a 98-78 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in their preseason opener. The blowout was highlighted by the Celtics outscoring the Sixers by a 54-30 margin in the second half.
There were plenty of highlights (and lowlights) to talk about, but here are three things we learned about the new-look Celtics after the dominating performance.
1. Evan Turner can do a little bit of everything With Rajon Rondo (hand) and Jeff Green (calf) sidelined with injuries, the fifth-year swingman was thrust into a leading role within the Celtics offense right out of the gate Monday night. Turner made the most of the opportunity, posting a double-double in his Celtics debut with a team-high 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Turner also assumed point guard duties for the majority of the second half, which seemed to jumpstart the Celtics offense. His aggressive penetration created space and scoring opportunities for his teammates and he shined against his former team.
After the game, Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens spoke about Turner making a strong impression in his first appearance in green.
“I think that’s who he is,” Stevens said about Turner’s ability to thrive at multiple positions. “And that’s who he’s got to be. I think he can be better than he was tonight, but he played well. He’s been pretty good in practice. He was not as good in the scrimmage the other night and I think he was pretty hard on himself, but I thought yesterday was his best practice and he followed it up with a very good game tonight.”
2. Marcus Smart is NBA-ready on one end of the floor Stevens showed some confidence in the rookie by giving him the start at point guard in place of Rondo. Smart held his own on the defensive end of the floor, using his strength and size to harass the Sixers backcourt alongside Avery Bradley for most of the night. Smart finished the contest with three steals overall.
Smart’s offensive game, though? It’s a work in progress. He saw several open looks from the perimeter, but missed all eight of this field goal attempts, including four from 3-point range. The lackluster offensive output should come as no surprise, as Smart has struggled with his outside shot throughout his career.
Despite the lackluster showing on the offensive end, Stevens was thrilled with the defensive contributions of his lottery pick.
“What Marcus does to affect the game is going to be hard to find on a stat sheet in a lot of games,” Stevens noted. “I mean he’s so, so tough defensively and he’s one of these guys that I think will get stronger as the game goes along defensively. And that’s hard to play against for the whole time.”
3. The Celtics are serious about pushing the pace this year Any takeaways from this game should come with a grain of salt since the Sixers are likely to be the worst team in the league yet again this season. With that said, the Celtics’ plan to be aggressive on both ends of the floor this season paid dividends.
Stevens had all of his lineups attacking the Sixers in transition throughout the second half and it ended up being a perfect strategy. The relentless pushing of the ball appeared to wear the Sixers out as they allowed countless easy baskets in the second half, turning a close game into a blowout.
Boston has the depth at multiple positions to play this type of style all season. It will be interesting to see how well the Celtics fare with it against more talented opponents, but it created a fun product to watch for the TD Garden crowd Monday night.