You only get one chance to make a first impression. The new-look Sixers made a serious one in front of their home fans in their season opener.
They bullied their way to a 107-93 win over the rival Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday.
It was an ugly shooting start for both teams, understandable for the first game of the regular season.
Ben Simmons and the team’s "bully ball defense" led the way in helping the Sixers start 1-0. They travel to Detroit for a date with the Pistons Saturday night.
Here are observations from the win:
Great D makes up for misses from 3
The Sixers’ offense looked stagnant early. Some credit goes to Boston’s defense and the abundance of fouls called on both sides, which made it tough for either team to get into a rhythm. But several of the looks were of the wide-open variety. The Sixers missed their first nine threes and made just 7 of 29 for the game. They didn’t shoot the three well in the preseason and it’s been a question since GM Elton Brand assembled his gargantuan roster. Those concerns remain one game in.
Defensively, the team lived up to its billing throughout. The Sixers held the Celtics to just 41 percent in the first half. They turned it up a notch in the second half as they opened up the third on a 13-2 run and even forced an eight-second violation out of a Boston timeout. Though their pick-and-roll defense was up and down throughout the night, it was an impressive effort overall, holding Boston to just 36.7 percent. The Sixers also outrebounded the Celtics 62-41. This team has the potential to be the top defensive unit in the NBA.
The Celtics were hellbent on doubling Joel Embiid as much as possible. They helped or showed help just about every time Embiid touched the ball. He got off to a slow start — he tried to force some things around the basket and settled for midrange jumpers.
But he started recognizing the double teams better as the game went along. He hit Mike Scott on a nice cut to the basket for a layup late in the first quarter and found Simmons for an easy bucket late in the second. He had three assists and no turnovers, which is huge for the Sixers.
On the defensive end, he truly is the catalyst for everything. Plus-minus isn’t always the most telling stat, but with Embiid it tells an awful lot. He was plus-16. When he picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth, it wasn't ideal, but with Al Horford and Kyle O'Quinn now in the mix, it helps mitigate Embiid's absence a bit. Embiid shot just 5 of 14 for 15 points, but recorded 13 rebounds and three blocks.
Speaking of which, just a quick observation of praise for Brand shoring up the center position. With Embiid in foul trouble, Horford stepped in and played well. When Horford got in foul trouble, O'Quinn gave them a solid few minutes. Remember when Brett Brown had to trot out Greg Monroe in Game 7 of a playoff series?
Simmons runs the show
The Sixers are huge, as Brown has reminded us almost every day since his annual luncheon, but that doesn’t mean they’re slow. Simmons is still running the offense at a breakneck pace and for good reason. Simmons is always at his best when he’s in attack mode. That was the case early as he led all scorers with 12 points in the first half. That Horford contract is already paying for itself by not having him guard Simmons. Kidding … kind of.
No, we didn't see any jump shots, but in reality, the game didn't present that opportunity for Simmons. He finished with a team-high 24 points (11 of 16), nine assists and eight rebounds. The fact that he went just 2 of 5 from the line is a concern.
How Richardson fit
I came away really impressed with the play of Josh Richardson. Brown has emphasized his importance to the Sixers this season and you can see why. He’s not trying to replace Jimmy Butler or JJ Redick, but he’s providing a lot of what those veterans gave the Sixers.
Brown was hesitant to name Richardson his backup point guard, wanting to let veterans Raul Neto and Trey Burke vie for the spot. But on Wednesday night, you saw why Brown opted for Richardson. When the ball was in his hands, Richardson picked up his play offensively. He was aggressive in getting to the basket and was 9 of 9 from the line — something Butler was always able to do.
You can also see the potential of the pick-and-roll and two-man game between Richardson and Embiid. Richardson joked after the Blue x White Scrimmage that he wasn’t trying to be “Jimmy Redick,” but in the way Brown is using him, it is sort of a hybrid of the two former Sixers. He had 17 points (4 of 12) with six rebounds.
Defensively, he had a crazy impressive play early on Gordon Hayward. Hayward tried to take Richardson off the dribble and pulled up for a midrange jumper. Richardson slid with Hayward the whole way then came with a block. That led to a frustration foul by Hayward which got the crowd fired up. You could also see Kemba Walker struggle with the Sixers' length all night (4 of 18, 12 points) and Richardson was a big part of that.
After an impressive preseason, rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle’s defensive assignment off the bench on opening night was Walker. Welcome to the NBA, kid.
We saw Thybulle impact games with deflections galore, but rarely did we get to see him just man somebody up or have to defend the pick-and-roll. He more than held his own against the All-Star guard who has killed the Sixers in the past. Sure, Walker baited him into picking up a couple cheap fouls — the third of which was questionable to say the least — but he also disrupted and frustrated Walker just as much. He had two steals and two blocks — the most impressive play was a trail swat on Walker on a runner in the lane.
The offensive game is still a little raw but man, this kid can play.
Tobias' steady night
It took Tobias Harris a little while to get into the flow, but he was solid in this one. He finished with 15 points (6 of 11, 2 of 5 from three), 15 rebounds and four assists. You'd like to see him be more aggressive from the jump, but it's just one game. He also may be erasing some of those doubts about his defense. He more than held his own on Wednesday.
0 for 1 on the challenge
Brown starts the season 0 for 1 on the newly-implemented coach's challenge. Early in the third, Embiid tripped Walker. There's not a lot of history on this but it seemed like an odd challenge. It doesn't seem like the Sixers would've gotten the ball back even if Brown won the challenge.
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