Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Sixers done being the punchline?

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30 teams in 30 days: Sixers done being the punchline?

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: Philadelphia 76ers

BOSTON –  For years the Sixers have stunk while asking their fans to “trust the process,” with the losses piling up like a clogged sewage pipe.

It’s pretty clear by the moves they made this offseason, this franchise is tired of being a league-wide punchline for putrid play.

30 teams in 30 days:

Instead, they seem poised to punch back and – wait for it! – play competitive basketball that could potentially see them do the seemingly unthinkable and that’s get to the playoffs this spring.

There is an unmistakable buzz surrounding this team that’s based on something other than potential or incredibly pitiful play.

It’s rooted in progress, the kind that just may reward fans with a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2012 when they were eliminated in the second round by the Boston Celtics.

At the heart of Philadelphia’s now-optimistic hopes of having a bright future sooner rather than later, is Joel Embiid.

The 7-foot big man was a walking force of nature in his first healthy season (injuries sidelined him for his first two seasons in the league), which was an issue with him logging limited minutes (25.4 per game) and being even more limited when it came to actual games played (31).

But in that time, he averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds with 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks per game, the kind of stats that would put him firmly in the All-Star conversation.

However, the concerns that have dogged him since he came into the NBA – his health - are once again an issue heading into this season.

Embiid’s status to start the season remains uncertain due to a meniscus tear in his left knee suffered last season that has yet to heal to the point where he has been cleared to resume full basketball-related activities.

However, the optimism for Philadelphia competing for a playoff spot this season has more to do with them adding a pair of playoff-tested veterans in Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick who came via free agency from Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, respectively.

Philadelphia should also benefit from having Ben Simmons on the floor.

Drafted by the Sixers with the top overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Simmons has been cleared for full basketball-related activities after having suffered a foot injury that led to him missing the entire 2016-2017 NBA season.

And Philadelphia’s top pick in last June’s NBA draft, Markelle Fultz, suffered an ankle injury during summer league in Las Vegas last month but he too is on track to be ready to go before the start of training camp.

To talk about Philadelphia and good health in the same breath, is indeed progress. And if their core guys can manage to maintain a relatively clean bill of health during the regular season, Sixers fans will finally reap the fruits of having trusted the process.

Key free agent/draft/trade additions: J.J. Redick (Los Angeles Clippers); Amir Johnson (Boston).

Key losses:  Ersan Ilyasova (Atlanta); Sergio Rodriguez (CSKA Moscow); Gerald Henderson (free agent).

Rookies of note: Markelle Fultz; Furkan Korkmaz.

Expectations: 36-44 (Third in the Atlantic Division, ninth in the East)

Stats: Jayson Tatum is pretty much Larry Bird

Stats: Jayson Tatum is pretty much Larry Bird

Stop comparing Jayson Tatum to Paul Pierce. Turns out he's Larry Bird. Numbers don't lie.

In posting 14 points and 10 rebounds, Tatum became the first Celtics player to notch a double-double in his NBA debut since Larry Bird in 1979. Numbers also suggest that Bird went on to be very good, so that pretty much settles it. You can't just accept the numbers that say Bird was great and ignore the numbers that say Jayson Tatum is Larry Bird. You've got to accept all the numbers. Cherry-picking certain stats for your argument is what Mike Felger does. 

Tatum, who was the apple of Danny Ainge’s eye in the draft when he traded down from the first overall pick to the third spot, finished third on the C’s in scoring in Tuesday’s loss to the Cavs. Jaylen Brown led the way with a career-high 25 points, while Kyrie Irving posted 24.

Shorthanded Celtics fall short in 102-99 loss to Cavs

Shorthanded Celtics fall short in 102-99 loss to Cavs

CLEVELAND – Adversity has been a given with the Boston Celtics, so why would the season opener be any different? 

Despite being without their prized free agent signing in the offseason for all but the first five minutes against Cleveland, the Celtics gave themselves a chance to win down the stretch only to come up short in a 102-99 loss.

Boston led in the fourth only for LeBron James to score a go-ahead basket to make it 99-98 and then force a Celtics turnover seconds later.

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Following a time-out with 1:04 to play, Kevin Love hit a 3-pointer with 46.3 seconds to play to make it a 102-98 game.

The loss certainly hurts, but that pales in comparison to what losing Gordon Hayward for most if not all of this season, means to the Celtics after Hayward went down with fractured left ankle injury in the first quarter.

With the Celtics ahead 12-9, Kyrie Irving saw Hayward sprinting towards the rim and threw him an alley-oop pass.

LeBron James slid over and leaped to try and deflect it, which threw Hayward off balance in mid-air.

But Hayward didn’t land cleanly because ex-Celtic Jae Crowder, who was defending him on the play, made contact with Hayward’s lower body that resulted in an awkward landing for Hayward.

Video replays showed how contorted Hayward’s left ankle was, the kind of gruesome image that was in some ways reminiscent to the knee injury that derailed the career of Shaun Livingston.
 
While Livingston eventually returned to the floor and won a pair of NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors, but he was never the same player afterwards.
 
It’s far too soon to say exactly how Hayward’s injury will impact him this season, let alone for his career. 
 
But there is no mistaking seeing him go down the way he did, clearly rattled the Celtics and for that matter, the NBA family. 
 
Current and former NBA players took to social media offering of prayers of healing for Hayward, who was named to his first NBA All-Star team last season and signed a four-year, $127.8 million contract with the Celtics this summer. 
 
As for the actual game, the Cavaliers steadily pulled away in the second quarter and remained in control for most of the second half in a victory that certainly had to feel a bit shallow.
 
It wasn’t because the Celtics were undermanned without Hayward, but more important, because he’s part of the NBA family and regardless of how competitive players are, they never, ever like to see one of their own go down with such a devastating injury. 
 
Moments after Hayward went down, the looks of disappointment and pain were apparent. Inside the Celtics huddle, you saw Kyrie Irving’s head in the shoulder of a teammate.
 
Former Celtic Isaiah Thomas, now with the Cavs, was inside the Cavaliers locker room which is where they took Hayward initially. 
 
When Thomas left, he nodded, and shook his head, saddened by what he saw in the locker room. 
 
Despite the pain that all the Celtics were in following Hayward’s injury, there was still a game that had to be played. 
 
And anything less than their best against the defending Eastern Conference champions, would make for a long night. 
 
But the Celtics showed a resiliency in the third quarter that saw them climb back into things and made it a relatively close game. 
 
Trailing 54-38 at the half, Boston tied the game at 69 following a Marcus Smart free throw, followed by a go-ahead basket by Smart that put Boston on top 71-69. 
 
However, the Cavs ended the quarter with a 3-pointer by Derrick Rose which put them ahead 72-71 going into the fourth, an envious position for the Celtics all things considered. 
 
Even if the Celtics had been whole with Hayward, defeating the Cavs was going to be an extremely tall task.
 
They have after all, been to the NBA Finals each of the last three seasons and are the odds-on favorite to get back there for a fourth straight year. 
 
But the Celtics lost more than a key player when Hayward went down. 
 
They lost their focus, that intangible edge to their team that was supposed to be one of their strengths against a Cleveland team that has plenty of firepower and weapons of its own. 
 
The good news for both teams is that regardless of who came out on top, there are lessons to be learned for both teams. 
 
Unfortunately for the Celtics, those lessons going forward are likely to come about without Hayward in the lineup for some time. 

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