Jayson Tatum’s 23 points and nine rebounds led the Boston Celtics to a 105-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Tuesday night’s NBA curtain raiser.
The hosts’ all-round performance proved too strong for the highly-rated 76ers in a contest between two teams expected to feature in the postseason chase for the Championship trophy.
Marcus Morris added 16 points and 10 rebounds while Jaylen Brown bagged 12 points, and Terry Rozier scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds but the return of Gordon Hayward captured the imagination.
The 28-year-old was playing his first regular-season game since badly breaking his left ankle in last season’s opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In a carefully managed 25 minutes he had 10 points and four steals as Boston defeated the 76ers for the 15th time in the past 17 regular-season meetings.
The Celtics also ousted Philadelphia in a five-game, second-round playoff series last spring and another returning superstar, Kyrie Irving – who missed the 2018 post-season with a knee injury – made a low-key return with seven points on 2-of-14 shooting.
Al Horford blocked five shots for the Celtics, who shot 43.3 per cent from the field and were 11 of 37 from three-point range.
For the visiting 76ers Joel Embiid had 23 points and 10 rebounds for Philadelphia while last year’s rookie of the year Ben Simmons again underlined his position as one of the game’s brightest young talents – he fell just short of a triple-double, recording 19 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
Philadelphia shot 39.1 per cent from the field and were punished for a first half that featured a string of turnovers but, despite those errors, found themselves level at the end of the first quarter following an unanswered seven-point run to end the opening 12 minutes.
By half-time, the Celtics had built a five-point lead and pushed the margin to eight when Irving hit two free throws for his first points of the game.
The former Cleveland Cavalier drained a three-pointer to make it 59-47 and Tatum followed with a dunk to make it a 14-point margin with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The 76ers answered with 10 straight points to get back into the contest, but Boston pulled away later in the stanza. A couple of Morris baskets in the closing seconds gave the Celtics a 77-66 advantage entering the final quarter.
Brown and Irving ensured the hosts’ advantage remained in double figures but once again the 76ers came back, a couple of free throws by Embiid reduced the deficit to single figures with more than four minutes remaining.
Tatum and Rozier’s three-pointer took Boston clear again and the Celtics closed out the final minutes with the minimum of fuss to kick off their bid for a return to the Finals for the first time since 2010 with an emphatic victory.
The live action continues on Thursday morning from 1am on Sky Sports Arena and Main Event as New Orleans travel to Houston
Pelicans @ Rockets
- Thursday, 1am, Sky Sports Arena & Sky Sports Main Event
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