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Bulpett: Celtics make strong opening statement

The dagger came in the form of a smooth 3-pointer from a 6-foot-10 guy who appears to be the offspring of a quarry.

Aron Baynes, granite in green and white, hit the trey that gave the Celtics an 85-69 lead over Philadelphia with 10:21 left.

Which is no stranger than a light-hitting, defense-centric outfielder depositing a salami into the right-field seats to ice an American League Championship Series game, right?

By the time Jaylen Brown dunked on Joel Embiid, and certainly when Jayson Tatum beat the 24-second clock and Embiid with a jumper off the glass, the C’s had what they came for.

They went on to pull away for a 105-87 opening-night victory, secure in the knowledge that even if their skills are a bit off, hustle and depth will be more than enough to get them by on most of their NBA nights.

The Celts spent stretches of the evening executing offensively as if their attentions were divided, and that was without a doubt the case for those in civilian clothing who filled the joint.

The locals were leading, 21-14, and there was nothing particularly exciting happening on the parquet floor, when an exhale of a cheer arose from the stands.

Jackie Bradley Jr. had just hit a grand slam 1,604 miles away in Houston to give the Red Sox an 8-2 lead in the eighth, and the local citizenry was proving itself entirely capable of multi-tasking.

Within moments, as the Celts kept dribbling away, the Garden folk broke into a “JBJ-JBJ-JBJ” chant.

Approximately 10 minutes later at quarter’s end, Bradley’s bomb was shown on the video board above center court. The place went nuts again.

The Sox game ended at halftime, allowing the patrons to focus more thoroughly on the proceedings before them. The Celtics seemed to do a better job of that, too, after the break.

Philly had just 42 points in the opening half, and, with a five-point lead, Brad Stevens opted for a different lineup after the break. Baynes opened in place of Gordon Hayward and promptly dunked a feed from Al Horford, who added a jumper on the Celts’ next possession.

The Sixers were game, but the Bostonians simply had too much game for them.

It’s foolish to make grand proclamations after one outing or even a few. (Remember the Super Bowl-bound Jacksonville Jaguars of mid-September 2018?) But some preseason opinions and questions took a standing eight count here.

Tatum did not suffer with Hayward’s return. The no-longer-a-rookie was the Shamrocks’ rock in the early going. The Celts began the season a wobbly 0-for-5 before the still-a-kid pulled up and hit a 15-footer 2:41 after tipoff. Two minutes later, Tatum calmly stuck a trey from the left corner over the lengthy Embiid.

He wound up with a team-high 23 points.

Yeah, he’ll be just fine.

And so will Al Horford, not that there was any reasonable doubt about that. Those who expected Horford to fade into the witness protection program with all the returning talent around him to take the statistical pressure will point to his modest nine points and four rebounds. But there is the not so small matter of his five blocked shots (three in the first half) that significantly decreased the Philadelphia comfort level in the paint, and anything that makes the 76ers more of a jump-shooting team is bad news for the Sixers overall.

Hayward looked more comfortable toward the end of his 25 minutes — no stunner there as he played in a regular season game for the first time in 364 days.

In fact, the most surprising aspect of the night was authored by the Celtics’ best and most proven player.

There was a good-natured but mockish cheer a minute and 14 seconds into the second half when Kyrie Irving stepped to the line and hit a free throw. After an 0-for-8 first half from the floor (five of those blanks on 3-pointers, he was no longer scoreless for 2018-19.

At 9:03, he pulled up and drained a trey from the right wing and shook his head.

Irving may have been unhappy with himself, but the Celtics were able to laugh off his 2-for-14 aberration. There are 81 more of these to go, but, especially for those with high quality personal internet devices, this was about as much fun as an October 16 gets.

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