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The Boston Celtics opened their season with a gnarly loss in Philadelphia and some of the hot takes in the aftermath have been particularly spicy. The truth is that you can only draw so much from one game and it’s particularly daunting in this instance because of the profusion of whistles that so clearly impacted play.

So let’s sort through some notable (over)reactions from the game and determine if they’re valid or a bit premature: 

Kemba Walker is a $141 million bust

Judgment: Blatant overreaction

Walker had a miserable debut against a team he routinely scorched last season (including a 60-point outing). Philadelphia’s length bothered Walker, both with 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson defending him and the Sixers' size near the rim. Walker admitted he got a lot of the shots he desired, he just missed them. He only made 1 of 8 shots beyond 15 feet — and the lone make was a WIDE-open 3-pointer when Brad Wanamaker flung the ball out on the break. Walker missed 12 straight shots during one stretch spanning from midway through the second quarter until midway through the fourth. As Brad Stevens suggested after the game, Walker’s track record suggests he won’t have many off-shooting nights like this.


Boston’s interior defense is a concern

Judgment: Not an overreaction

Going into the game, if you had told most Boston fans that Joel Embiid wouldn’t lead his team in scoring or rebounding, all while Enes Kanter drew primary defensive duties in a starting role, they’d have taken it. But the Sixers as a team were dominant around the hoop, converting 28 of 43 attempts in the restricted area. That included an array of crafty finishes by Ben Simmons, who accounted for 11 of those makes near the rim. Some of this falls on Boston’s perimeter players, who let Simmons get a head of steam downhill, but Celtics defenders simply cannot expect consistent backline help like Al Horford and Aron Baynes might have provided (especially on nights when bigs are so focused on where Embiid is). Robert Williams did have one notable volleyball-spike block while helping on Simmons, which brings us to … 

Robert Williams will eventually be the starting center on this team

Judgment: Not an overreaction

Kudos to Williams, who wasn’t just coming off a poor, over-caffeinated preseason showing but spent much of the ramp-up to the regular season recovering from a concussion after taking a Kevin Love elbow to the head in the exhibition finale. Williams gave Boston 11 solid minutes off the bench and was the only player to finish in the positive in plus/minus. It should be stressed, of course, that Williams played zero minutes while Embiid was on the court, but he did the sort of things that had Boston brass buzzing about him this summer. Williams was active, he ran the floor, and, per usual, he threw down one thunderous lob. He’s still got a lot of strides to make to be a consistent starter (he had four fouls in his floor time) but his passing skills and rim-running ways leave us wondering if he’s the best fit next to Boston’s core guys in an up-tempo offense.

Jaylen Brown is a $115 million bust

Judgment: Blatant overreaction

Much like Walker, Brown certainly didn’t have the sort of night he wanted after inking his big deal. Brown picked up a ticky-tack foul while jousting with Horford early in the first quarter, got his second because he left his feet too early on an upfake soon after, and then got tagged with his third foul early in the second frame for some more overzealous defense. He did a poor job of trying to draw an offensive foul when he picked up his fourth with 9:13 to play in the first half and it pretty much took him out of the game. Brown played 21 tentative minutes overall. Positive: He grabbed seven rebounds while he was out there, but clearly didn’t have his usual aggressiveness when the whistles started.

Gordon Hayward is back!

Judgment: Not an overreaction

When Hayward struggled a bit in the opening minutes, it was fair to wonder if the summer hype train had been a mirage. But by the second half he was playing with a swagger we haven’t often seen in his Boston days. The NBA’s tracking data credited him with 18 drives — tied for the eighth-highest total in the league after the NBA’s opening slate of games. What’s more, Hayward generated nine field goal attempts off those drives and six of his 11 free throws were a direct result of drives. For context, Kyrie Irving averaged 11.4 drives per game in Boston last season while Hayward was second on the team at just 5.7. During his final season in Utah, Hayward averaged 9.2 drives per game. 


Jayson Tatum is embracing better shots

Judgment: Not an overreaction

When Tatum opened the 2019-20 season with a 17-foot fadeaway, Celtics fans undoubtedly groaned. But his overall shots profile was excellent: Eight attempts at the rim, eight more beyond the arc, and only two shots beyond 15 feet that were not 3s. The downside: Tatum was credited with 13 drives — second most on the team behind Hayward — but was 0-for-7 on shot attempts off of those drives. Maybe it was Philly’s length but Tatum needs to do a better job of finishing when he gets near the basket and he simply was off the mark with his layups and floaters. Still, that aggressiveness is going to bear fruit more often than not.

Carsen Edwards is a rookie who might not be a microwave scorer every night

Judgment: Not an overreaction

Edwards missed four of the five shots he took, including a three-shot flurry over 57 seconds at the end of the third quarter. For as tantalizing as his preseason 3-point outburst was in Cleveland, it’s a reminder that he’s still going to have cold-shooting nights and the Celtics will lean heavier on him where he’s clearly feeling it.

The NBA should get rid of coaches' challenges and find a way to speed up video reviews

Judgment: Indisputably not an overreaction

Sixty-three fouls were bad enough. Players, coaches, and fans alike would prefer to get an occasional call wrong over these interminable, energy-killing reviews.

Boston’s small-ball lineup is super intriguing

Judgment: Not an overreaction

In the fourth quarter, Stevens trotted out his “best 5” lineup of Walker, Hayward, Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart. The unit got outscored 10-9 during the span, but if Stevens is cool with throwing those five out against a length-filled team like Philadelphia, it will be really interesting to see what that lineup is capable of against other teams.

Al Horford ringing the bell almost single-handedly reignited the Celtics-76ers rivalry

Judgment: Not an overreaction

Embiid has repeatedly said in recent seasons that Celtics-Sixers isn’t a rivalry because Boston had dominated the series. But watching Horford, chief Embiid/Philly antagonizer, open the season by ringing the Sixers’ vaunted bell seemed to inject new life into this matchup. If the game hadn’t been such a whistle-filled slog, it would have really helped put this rivalry back on the burner.

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