The Boston Celtics look legitimate.
The Celtics answered a few offseason questions and showed improvements in areas that previously plagued them during their season-opening win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. Boston’s stars unsurprisingly led the way at TD Garden, but a composure that was lacked many times last season, a much-improved bench effort and the ability to limit their turnovers, another major factor why they came up two wins shy of Banner 18 this summer, all contributed to the Green’s 126-117 verdict.
It’s only game one of 82, but the Celtics got off to a great start in what might be viewed as a statement win.
Their composure, specifically, was highlighted after a third-quarter skirmish between Marcus Smart and 76ers big man Joel Embiid. After getting tangled up with one another, Smart was called for a technical foul for what he thought was a dirty play by Embiid. In the past, those sorts of moments might have caused the Celtics to unravel, perhaps Smart chucking up one or two from long range all while Boston’s offense then bleeds into its defensive effort. It wasn’t the case against Philadelphia, though, as the team made a concentrated effort to avoid doing so.
“Just for us to stay locked in,” Al Horford told reporters when asked about his message to the Celtics immediately after the dustup, per The Athletic. “That’s an easy way for the game to get out of hand, make it personal. I loved the fire. I loved the energy. But I just wanted to make sure everybody stayed in the moment.
“The biggest thing was composure,” Horford added. “And that’s what I was most happy about. Because sometimes we can kind of get out of character. And I felt like we stayed composed. And just by doing that, that took care of itself and we were able to build a lead.”
The Celtics, as Horford referenced, responded by building a 12-point lead eight minutes later. Boston outscored Philadelphia by 10 points in the third quarter and the second-half effort helped them build as large as a 16-point advantage late in the fourth.
Here are more takeaways from Celtics-76ers:
— It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown looked like two of the best players the NBA has to offer in the league’s opener. Tatum (35 points on 13-for-20) and Brown (35 points on 14-for-24), who did the majority of their work in the second half, combined for 70 points on 61% shooting (27-for-44). And while the stats stand out as is, the way both players played within themselves and made the right plays for the offense, showed they are not only capable of picking up where they left off, but continuing to build on it.
“From a physical standpoint, from the way my body feels, my legs, the weight that I’m at, this is the best I’ve felt probably since coming into a season the last two or three years,” Tatum said when asked about his difficult drives into the paint, finishing 11-for-13 from two-point range in the game, per NBC Sports Boston. “I feel like that has a lot to do with it.”
Brown added the quote of the night, and possibly the season: “We’re not taking no mess this year.”
— Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla, who has stepped in for suspended head coach Ime Udoka, earned his first career win in his first game at the helm. Mazzulla made a few subtle tweaks on the defensive end as the game went on, but mostly trusted the game plan and let his players play. I’d be fair to say Mazzulla passed his first test as the Celtics again looked much like the team they were with Udoka while also showing a few glimpses into what the 2022-23 group can do.
“Joe is tough as nails,” Brown said of Mazzulla after the game, per The Athletic. “Even when in the midst of everything, all the turmoil, when you looked into his eyes, you could tell he was ready.”
— The Celtics entered the season looking to play faster, and that’s exactly what they did. Boston’s impressive defense and speed were on display to the tune of a 24-2 advantage in fast-break points. The Green scored 15 points off 14 Philadelphia turnovers. Boston also quickly turned defensive rebounds on one end to easy buckets in transition. It looks like it will serve as a strength for a team that didn’t do much running last season.
— Boston’s bench wasn’t able to provide a consistent presence during the NBA Finals, but that also looked like an area of improvement against Philadelphia. With Malcolm Brogdon (16 points on 7-for-11, four assists) and Grant Williams (15 points on 5-for-5 from field) leading the way, the Celtics outscored the Sixers 34-11 in bench points. Brogdon, the well-known offseason addition and Sixth Man of the Year contender, provided an immediate spark with his playmaking and crafty scoring. Williams showed another flash of his shooting, something he took a step forward with last season, as he hit all three of his 3-point attempts. If he’s able to continue to do so, it’ll provide a much-appreciated spacer for Tatum and Brown.
— Boston’s turnover troubles ultimately doomed their playoff run, a major reason they handed games to the Golden State Warriors in the title series. At first glance, the Celtics were better in that area against an improved 76ers’ defense. Boston finished with 11 total turnovers, a good-not-great number, but had just one of those come in the third quarter as they outscored the Sixers by 10 points during their run.