“They’ve got playmakers, they’ve got shot-takers — they’re just playoff-built,” Brown said.
The 76ers are regarded as one of Boston’s two foremost challengers in the post-LeBron James East alongside Toronto, thanks largely to the starry duo of Embiid and Ben Simmons and the momentum Philadelphia started building last season in a 52-win campaign.
The 76ers, remember, won their final 16 regular-season games entering the playoffs. On this night, though, Philadelphia slumped to its 15th defeat in its past 17 regular-season meetings with the Celtics when only Simmons (19 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists) managed to play on Jayson Tatum’s level.
Starting his second season in Boston, and with Irving and Hayward soaking up so much of the pregame focus, Tatum amassed an efficient 23 points and nine rebounds. Al Horford, meanwhile, became the first Celtic since Kevin McHale in November 1990 to block five shots in Boston’s season opener, sparking the hosts defensively as they hounded Philadelphia into 39.1-percent shooting from the field.
Embiid finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, but the veteran Horford made him work for every ounce of that offense with his savvy resistance in their skirmishes.
As he cleaned out his stall in the visitors’ locker room, Embiid acknowledged that he hungers to beat the Celtics as much as any team he could face in the wake of Philadelphia’s second-round playoff exit to Boston last spring. But there were echoes of Brown’s praise sprinkled in with Embiid’s usual braggadocio when he was asked about the many challenges posed by the Celtics.
“I want to beat them bad,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to find a way. But it’s true — they’re stacked.”
Regarding Tatum specifically, Embiid heaped the superlatives onto a rival for a change, saying: “He’s a special one. He’s going to be great for years.”
Trying to draw deeper conclusions just 48 minutes into the 82-game schedule is dangerous, but a legitimate issue for Philadelphia in the short term — before it can really worry about closing the gap on Boston — continues to be the state of the second-year guard Markelle Fultz.