The Celtics made the first move toward earning their place as Eastern Conference favorites with a win over the 76ers on opening night.
The Celtics beat the 76ers 105-87 Tuesday night to get the 2018-19 NBA season started with a statement win in Boston.
Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both returned to the court after injuries derailed them last year. Hayward didn’t even make it out of the first quarter of the first game last year, but he returned Tuesday night to score 10 points with five rebounds and four steals.
Looking deep and dangerous, the Celtics claimed an early edge as the Eastern Conference favorites with this victory.
Here are three takeaways from Boston’s win over the 76ers:
1. Celtics are the deepest team in the East — Few teams are going to be able to compete with Golden State’s starting lineup this year, but Boston might have the league’s best bench. Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and Terry Rozier all provided solid minutes and production Tuesday night, building on last season’s playoff success.
— NBA (@NBA) October 17, 2018
With Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup, Boston has two dangerous squads ready to jump on opposing teams’ second units.
2. 76ers need shooters — It’s easy to hit them when down (39 percent shooting, 19 percent from 3-point range), but the 76ers consistently proved last season that J.J. Redick was their only true deep threat. Ben Simmons has blossomed into a dangerous player, but he can’t shoot. Simmons had 19 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists Tuesday night, and Joel Embiid 23 points and 10 rebounds, but neither are threats from outside the free-throw line.
The NBA has become a shooters league, with the best teams carrying multiple threats from beyond the arc. Philadelphia could struggle to win big games if they can’t find a couple more dangerous shooters.
3. Defense can still win games in the NBA — In an era of “Big Threes” and collaborative superstars almost as famous off the court as they are on it, defense has lost a bit of its appeal over the past decade. But Brad Stevens has this Celtics team locked in on both ends of the court, something rarely seen in the NBA since the Pistons and Spurs’ dominant days in the early 2000s.
Brown and Tatum are rare young stars who get just as excited shutting their opponent down as they do scoring. That mentality could help Boston pull off some upsets when the games really start mattering next spring.