I shut off my computer immediately after the final buzzer last night because I knew social media was going to be a wretched hive of bullshit hot takes and overreaction.
Let’s keep it simple:
The Boston Celtics are an excellent team. Brad Stevens’ squad is incredibly athletic on the perimeter and stacked with multiple guys who can create their own shot and do a lot of dynamic things on the offensive end. Some of their bench players really should be starters on other teams (Terry Rozier) and they continue to play a defensive brand of basketball that just stifles the Sixers (and pretty much everybody else in the Eastern Conference).
So Joel Embiid is accurate when he says post-game, “This is not a rivalry. I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass. This is not a rivalry.”
You need to beat a team before it comes a rivalry, and the Sixers are not there yet. Right now the Sixers are Pittsburgh and the Celtics are Penn State. There’s history there, sure, but the last few meetings have been pretty lopsided.
That’s the storyline moving forward. You lost to the best team in the conference on opening night. The rest of the season is about bringing yourself level with Boston and you’ve got 81 remaining games to figure it out.
It’s hard to win a basketball game when:
- you turn the ball over 16 times
- you shoot 5-26 from three (19.2%)
- your starting power forward gets himself into early foul trouble
- your backup power forward is injured and unavailable
- your backup small forward is injured and unavailable
- you get 8-25 shooting (32%) from Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Markelle Fultz
- you shoot 14-24 from the foul line (58.3%)
- Boston grabs twice as many offensive rebounds (12 to 6)
Regarding the turnovers –
The Sixers won a ton of games while coughing up the ball last year. Same with Golden State, who won it all. Turnovers don’t always equate to losses if you’re an up-tempo team that swings the ball around and flies up and down the court and averages more total possessions per game.
That was not the case last night, and there was a lot of forced stuff and some miscommunication that resulted in plays like this:
Just a bread and butter dribble hand-off right there, and Embiid leaves the ball for Redick, who makes a counter cut instead to beat the overplay. Joel will normally hold that and wait to see what develops instead of just dumping the ball out of bounds.
He was also annoyed with this play, when he threw a low post bounce pass entry off Dario Saric and out of play:
Sorry for the crap quality there, had to rip it off the TV.
You see Boston meeting Ben Simmons with two defenders at the foul line, which is the same exact thing they did last year. Ben drops it for the trailing big, and instead of Embiid trying a wide-open three pointer, he puts the ball on the floor and dribbles towards Saric before the pair fumble the exchange.
Look at the space here:
Joel shoots that more often than not. He’s not at his best when putting the ball on the floor 23 feet from the basket, but you already knew that.
I also thought he got hung out to dry defensively with too many tough matchups on the perimeter. It’s not to say he can’t defend on the perimeter, but it was very interesting to see him matched up with Jayson Tatum to start the game while Markelle Fultz took Kyrie Irving. Maybe the Sixers figure that Al Horford is going to try to stretch out Embiid anyway, and that he’s going to inevitably be pulled away from the basket no matter who he ends up guarding. Good job by Boston to space the floor and keep the Sixers moving defensively last night. You can switch two through four or fight through screens, but the trio of Irving, Tatum, and Jaylen Brown are capable of attacking really anybody you throw at them. Throw Rozier and Horford and Gordon Hayward into the mix, and it gets even more dicey.
Honestly, his performance probably kept things from getting out of control early on.
He finished with 19, 15, and 8 on 50% shooting and turned the ball over three times while going 5-9 from the stripe.
A lot of good, not much bad, a couple of amazing passes, and two attempted elbow jumpers that I counted. He actually missed twice from the left elbow but hit a ridiculous turnaround one-handed hook shot, if you want to call it that.
Ben’s chart from last night:
I’d be perfectly happy with him trying a couple of elbow jumpers per game as the season progresses. Those will start to go down.
Otherwise, he was the best Sixer on the court last night. Even in situations where Boston would try to sag to prevent drives to the rim, he’d still find ways to get that head of steam and bulldoze his way through. Ben is a rare physical specimen and if his game continues to grow and evolve he will be a top five NBA player at some time in the near future.
The biggest issue moving forward is finding a rhythm and sharing ball-handling duties with….
Didn’t seem like he was finding the game at all early. It looked like he was just sort of floating around the floor and not getting involved. A little later, he hit his first shot on a nice pull-up at the foul line with a couple guys close to him, and he looked confident doing it. That was probably the highlight of the night, though I obviously loved the off-ball cut to the rim on the ridiculous Simmons no-look behind-the-head pass.
In the second half, Markelle again looked hesitant for the small amount of minutes he played. He passed on a layup attempt and traveled under the rim.
He did not attempt a three pointer last night and only took one of his seven shots outside the key. He failed to take a pair of open jumpers from deeper range and instead brought the ball closer to the basket, which sounded alarm bells in my head.
Kyle Neubeck over at PhillyVoice put two of those clips into a Tweet this morning:
First two plays in this clip: Fultz with space to take longer jumpers vs. BOS tonight, conceding it to shoot around the paint
Final two plays in this clip: How Fultz used to attack *any* semblance of space he had to shoot, vs. BOS in Summer League pic.twitter.com/lbo83wDmNt
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) October 17, 2018
It’s one thing for Markelle to take those and miss, but he didn’t take ’em. In that first clip, he has to let that three pointer rip. The second is one of the weirdest pick and rolls I’ve ever seen.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, as Nick Young once said. Or was it Wayne Gretzky? Either way, someone needs to drill that into Markelle’s head. I want to see him take at least 10 shots in the home opener tomorrow night.
Saric picking up three fouls early was a killer.
He started 3-4 from the field and the injury absence of Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala really limited Brett Brown’s options off the bench. Picking up a fourth foul at the 9:14 mark in the third on a bad charge also did not help. And Dario’s 5th foul was a bad call with an out of control Hayward running right into him, full steam.
I have a theory that Dario doesn’t get a lot of respect from the officials because he’s still a relative newcomer (and a foreigner), but I can’t prove that theory without accusing people of xenophobia, so I’ll just leave it hanging and end the paragraph.
As expected, JJ Redick and Amir Johnson were first off the bench, spelling Saric and Embiid with Robert Covington moving down to power forward sans Chandler and Muscala. T.J. McConnell was next off the bench, leaving three ball handlers on the floor with Redick and Johnson.
Landry Shamet came off the bench around 10:00 in the second half. He took two early shots, which was good to see, even though he missed both. I’m fine with that. He’s like the anti-Fultz in that regard. Maybe we can find a way to insert Landry’s brain into Markelle’s body. Maybe a combo guard lobotomy is what we need.
As I mentioned above, Fultz barely played in the second half. He did not start in the second half. Brown rolled out last year’s starting five to begin the third quarter and went with a mostly different rotation from what we saw in the first half. Markelle didn’t come back in until 3:13 in the period and finished with 24 minutes last night.
This HAS TO BE priority number one, figuring out what Markelle is. To that end, I do agree with the decision to start him, but it gets funky when multiple ball handlers are on the floor. If Fultz is “the guy” moving forward, he’s gonna have to learn how to play with Simmons in some way, shape, or form. If not, you play him as the second unit point guard and roll another season with Redick as the starting two-guard while looking for upgrades next summer.
They have to figure it out ASAP, and I think that includes Brett giving him significant second-half minutes. If you get 10-15 games into the season and you don’t see anything from Markelle, might be time to just pull the plug. I know this sounds ridiculous after ONE game, but it’s really not one game, it’s 80+ now, as a continuation of his lost rookie season.
- After a preseason in which the refs blew the whistle every five seconds, they really let both teams play for the majority of the game.
- Ben Simmons twice used the snatch dribble in the first half on plays that resulted in a basket. He tried another in the third quarter and couldn’t get a contested lay-in to fall.
- Robert Covington had a nice patch in the 3rd quarter where he hit a pair of three pointers. He made some nice defensive plays as well, including a couple of clutch steals and deflections at the basket. Beyond that, he was front-rimming a lot of his shots and doing little to influence the game. It was a very Covington type of game, inconsistent with peaks and valleys throughout.
- Kevin Harlan didn’t seem to know how to pronounce “Dario.” Duh-REE-oh? What was that? Harlan tried to blame it on the Sixers press corps, so I don’t know what that’s all about. We’ll have to investigate.
- I HATE the in-game interview with the coaches. Brett Brown literally spoke twice before the game and is required to speak after the game. He does not need to speak again DURING the game. Coaches should not be required to speak to the media four times in one day, PERIOD. I will die on this hill.
- Aron Baynes has the ugliest three-point shot I’ve ever seen, yet it goes in
- Nastiest dunk of the night = Amir Johnson