In this new and hopefully regular feature, I’ll be discussing, dissecting, and ranting about random games—outside the confines of Sacramento—that catch my eye.
As the TNT crew eagerly reminded us time and time again, “it’s opening night!”—and it showed on the floor Tuesday in Boston. Both teams, hopefuls for the Eastern Conference crown, are shells of the teams they can become by April. But Boston’s absurd depth—and the lack of consistent offensive from Philadelphia outside of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons—helped the Celtics shake the early season jitters to blow past the 76ers 105 to 87.
This should be one of if not the premier East Coast rivalry for the next decade, the Basketball Gods be willing, but Joel Embiid was quick to dispel that term just yet. “This not a rivalry,” he told the Associated Press after the game. “I don’t know our record against them. But it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass. So this is not a rivalry.”
The most interesting Celtic tactic, which was especially prevalent late in the game, was purposeful switches to get scorers into ISO situations with Embiid. And to their credit, it worked—none more beautifully than this amazing Jayson Tatum crossover.
Tatum’s craftiness and all-around scoring ability is off the charts for a damn 20 year old, and he’s making anyone who doubted him pre-draft a year ago look extremely foolish. But while Tatum continues to look like the eventual 1A scorer on this roster, Brad Steven’s roster will never soli depend on just one or two player. There’s a reason the STR crew all predicted the Celtics would be the Eastern Conference Champs… an honor not even the Warriors could match this year in the West.
Congratulations to Gordon Hayward, who returned to the court after a year-long recovery from his devastating leg injury suffered on opening night a year ago. He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals on 4-12 shooting, but the Celtics knew that integrating him into the already stacked rotation would take some time before efficiency blossoms. Hayward played hard on both ends, and it’s great to see him back on the NBA court.
For the 76ers, the key to unlock their next big growth remains the same as last year… they need to figure out who Markelle Fultz is. On a roster that has a big man demigod/the greatest NBA social media guru in Embiid, and a 6’10 point guard who can literally do everything you want beyond shoot outside the paint in Simmons, it’s amazing that the most interesting Philadelphia storyline (to me, at least) remains Fultz.
Fultz wasn’t great last night, finishing with 5 points, 2 assists, and 3 boards on 2-7 shooting, but the 76ers needed to and should continue to start Fultz. It clearly wasn’t an easy decision to move JJ Redick to the bench in favor of Fultz—the lineup of Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric had the highest net rating of any lineup with more than 500 minutes last year—but this team desperately needs a third, consistent, go-to option. Everything we saw from him in college says Markelle Fultz should be that guy. But the player Fultz was in college is not the player Fultz is right now.
First two plays in this clip: Fultz with space to take longer jumpers vs. BOS tonight, conceding it to shoot around the paint
Final two plays in this clip: How Fultz used to attack *any* semblance of space he had to shoot, vs. BOS in Summer League pic.twitter.com/lbo83wDmNt
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) October 17, 2018
Brett Brown made the right move to start Fultz; hopefully the extended minutes it gives him the confidence he needs to emerge into that 3rd-scorer role come April.