Celtics vs. 76ers score, takeaways: Boston takes down Philadelphia in NBA’s regular season opener

The Boston Celtics made it all the way to the NBA Finals last June. However, they still entered the new season facing plenty of questions after suspending their coach for a year and replacing him with a guy with no previous experience at the NBA level over the offseason. Despite those distractions though, the Celtics looked a whole lot like a legitimate contender again in their first game of the season. 

Against a re-tooled Philadelphia 76ers team that added several new pieces over the summer, the Celtics took over in the second half and pulled out a 126-117 victory. The game was tied at halftime, but Boston outscored Philadelphia 35-35 in the third quarter, and then never looked back. For Boston, it was the usual suspects who led the way. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both had 35 points in the contest, and Tatum also added 12 rebounds and four assists. That tandem seemingly took turns toying with Philadelphia’s defenders. 

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart also added 14 points and seven assists for the Celtics. As a team, Boston shot a sizzling 56 percent from the floor. 

James Harden led the way for Philadelphia with 35 points, seven assists and eight rebounds, and his play was probably the most encouraging aspect of the evening for the Sixers. Joel Embiid, the MVP runner-up from last season, finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and five assists and rising star Tyrese Maxey added 21 points of his own, including nine in the fourth quarter. The production of that trio wasn’t enough to lift the Sixers to a season-opening win. 

Only so much can be taken from the first game of the season, but the Celtics certainly looked extremely formidable again, especially considering the fact that were without their starting center Robert Williams. Once he returns, Boston could be very tough to topple. As for Philadelphia, the Sixers clearly have some things that they need to clean up, but they shouldn’t be too discouraged after a single game, given all of the new pieces they’re incorporating. 

Here’s a look at three key takeaways from Boston’s season-opening win over Philadelphia. 

1. An encouraging debut for Brogdon 

After coming two wins shy of hanging a banner, Boston’s biggest offseason acquisition was Malcolm Brogdon, who they traded for back in July. Brogdon, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, made his debut for the team on Tuesday night, and it went very well. Brogdon came off of the bench for Boston, but he played 24 minutes — fourth most on the team. In that time, he scored 15 points while shooting seven of 11 from the floor. He also added four assists, two steals and two rebounds. 

It was solid production, but the full value of what he brought to the team wasn’t just reflected in his own numbers. He provided the team with an additional threat on the offensive end, and an additional player capable of creating his own offense. This made things easier for the other guys like Tatum and Brown. Brogdon isn’t built to be the top option on a title team, but he would make a really nice third or fourth option on one. As the season goes on, you have to assume he’ll grow even more comfortable playing with his new teammates, and that could make him even more effective. Again, it’s only one game, but Brogdon’s addition looks like a valuable one for Boston. 

2. Boston dominated in transition 

If there’s one thing in particular that the Sixers can point to as the reason they came out on the wrong side of this one, their transition defense would be it. The Sixers allowed the Celtics to score 24 fast break points, while they scored a total of two — yes, just two — themselves. It’s tough to win a game when the other team outscores you by 20-plus in a single category, and that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night. Moving forward, the Sixers have to make a [much] more concerted effort to get back on defense in transition, or else they’re going to get run out of a lot of gyms. One thing that they can do to help themselves is to take better care of the basketball. The Sixers have 14 team turnovers (compared to 11 for Boston) and several of those led directly to easy, uncontested transition baskets for the Celtics. 

In addition to defending in transition better, the Sixers also need to be more aggressive about generating their own offense on the break. To only get two fast break points is laughable, especially when you have the level of talent that the Sixers do. Moving forward, they need to pick up the pace. Getting the ball to Tyrese Maxey more frequently in the backcourt is a good start. 

3. A forgettable night for Embiid 

Joel Embiid’s final numbers from the game look pretty good: 26 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and a block. However, those numbers are a bit misleading, as Embiid certainly didn’t have one of his better performances. I thought he spent entirely too much time lining up at the elbow or floating around the perimeter, as opposed to establishing post position, which has become his bread and butter over his past couple of MVP-caliber seasons. On the block is where he has his biggest advantage, and he just puts so much sheer pressure on the defense from that position. Plus, he’s developed into a much-improved passer out of the post when he’s double-teamed, which is almost always. 

He shot just one of six from long range against the Celtics, but he shot eight of 12 on two-pointers and seven of nine from the foul line. Some of that is on Embiid to do a better job of establishing himself in the post, but some of it is scheme-related. Philadelphia needs to do a better job of helping the big man establish himself down low early and often. Embiid also had six turnovers against Boston, which isn’t acceptable. He’s become less turnover-prone over his career, but he was far too sloppy and loose with the ball in this game. 

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