BOSTON – NBA teams faced enough difficulty in trying to beat the Boston Celtics last postseason without both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving on the floor. Now, with the All-Stars back in action, preparing to face the C’s this season could become even more of a nightmare.
The Philadelphia 76ers will act as the NBA’s guinea pig Tuesday night, as they will have the first crack at trying to beat the fully-stacked C’s in the season-opener at TD Garden.
Philly was quite familiar with last season’s version of the Celtics having faced them 11 times from September to May, while compiling a 2-9 record. Now, it will have to figure out how to outlast Boston with the re-additions of Irving, who played in just four of those 11 contests (all in the regular season and preseason), and Hayward, who saw action just once against the 76ers, with that appearance coming during exhibition play.
“Where do you begin?” Sixers coach Brett Brown pondered Tuesday morning when asked of how the returns of Hayward and Irving could change how the C’s play. “Where do you begin?”
Well, for starters, the 76ers could look back at their first preseason matchup last season against the C’s, which was one of just three games during which Hayward and Irving saw action together. But then again, that was a full year ago, before the rest of Boston’s young core had a chance to gain confidence and develop. And of course, that was just a practice game.
Tuesday night will feature two former All-Stars who haven’t played meaningful basketball in months – or in Hayward’s case, a full year. He and Irving both will be hungry in their returns and ready to prove how well they can play together.
“And it’s not like they’re unconventional types of players,” Brown pointed out to Celtics.com. “They’re very conventional. They’re modern day, they’re All-Stars, and they’re multipurpose. Kyrie can play off the ball, on the ball. Gordon can guard 4s, 3s and 2s, and do stuff himself with the ball. They’re multidimensional All-Stars that can shoot. And so, I think that they’ll fit in quickly, and well.”
One of the most valuable aspects of returning Hayward and Irving to the rotation is that it will allow the Celtics to have five prolific perimeter shooters on the court at once.
As a defensive minded team, and one that held opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the league last season, Philly sees this matchup as a great test with which to open the season.
“I think it is a blessing,” Brown said of facing Boston’s floor-spacing offense right off the bat. “It’s trying to prepare for the best – the evolving door of NBA schemes. It sure is becoming a five-out sport with some of the better teams … So, I think it’s great. Let’s jump into this, let’s test-drive it and see where we’re at (defensively). I’m excited to try to guard this tonight and I think we’ll learn a lot.”
Brown and the 76ers learned during last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals that Boston is a team that they’re going to have to figure out if they hope to make any substantial run in the future.
The coach admitted after his team’s season-ending loss to the Celtics last postseason, “If we’re going to do anything of any significance, we’re always going to have to go through the Boston Celtics.”
That claim may be even more valid now that Boston has both Hayward and Irving back in the rotation.
“It just makes them royalty,” Brown said Tuesday of new-look C’s. “It makes them one of the top – in my opinion – one of the top two or three teams in the NBA.”