Disappointing start to the season but not necessarily surprising. The Celtics are the projected favorite in the Eastern Conference for a reason. They played stifling defense while the Sixers couldn’t buy a bucket. Here are some initial observations from both teams.
Ben Simmons was the best player on the floor
Simmons has a feel for the game that is on a different level. He filled up the box score while at times, looking dominant. He put on a passing clinic, especially in the first half, highlighted by an over-the-shoulder no look pass to Markelle Fultz for an easy bucket. He quietly grabbed 15 boards, nearly had a double-double at halftime and finished two assists away from his first triple-double of the season. The Sixers looked at their best when Simmons had the ball in his hands and dictating the offense. This game reinforced the notion that Simmons could take a major leap this year.
Joel Embiid worked way too hard
Embiid got his stats but it was a struggle for the big man. The Celtics played great defense on him, constantly forcing him into double teams when he received the ball in the post. This resulted in 9-21 from the field and 5 turnovers. Embiid has struggled at times passing out of double teams and last night was no exception. For this Sixers team to reach their goals, Embiid must get better at generating offense for others when he does not have a high percentage look in the post.
Jason Tatum is ready to break out
Tatum tied Embiid with a game-high 23 points on 9-17 shooting. He took and made several difficult contested shots and showed the moxy you expect from the best player on an elite team. However, the Celtics might have a lineup controversy as it is clear that Tatum should be playing more than Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown. How Brad Stevens manages his rotations will be fascinating this year. Tatum may have become the most important Celtic this year, which is incredible given that he has only played in 81 career regular season games.
Let’s take a wait-and-see approach with Markelle Fultz
This was not the best start from our prized guard. At times, he looked to be pressing, trying to prove that his shooting/offense is back. He seemed to be content, standing in the corner when Simmons was dictating the offense or Embiid was posting up. However, give credit to the Celtics for taking Fultz out of this game. I expect Fultz will have his moments, especially as the Sixers begin play against the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, last night was a tough match up to fully unleash everything Fultz brings to this team.
Sixers poor free throw shooting is unacceptable
The Sixers shot 58% from the charity stripe. That will not get it done against the best teams in the league. For a team that has so much size and thrives at creating around the basket, the Sixers need to get better from the line. Admittedly, Simmons was the biggest culprit shooting 11 of the Sixers’ 24 free throws and only making 5 of them. You have to take advantage of easy points when you have them, so I expect Brown to make this a focus going forward.