GRADES: Philadelphia 76ers 107, Boston Celtics 93

Josh Richardson, Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Josh Richardson, Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are 1-0 on the young NBA season.

The Philadelphia 76ers hosted the Boston Celtics on opening night and, in a nice change of pace, weren’t embarrassed by an Al Horford-led defense or skewered by a Kyrie Irving-led offense. The Sixers won, comfortably, in a strong display of defensive potential.

It was not pretty. The first half ended with Philadelphia up 49-48, but poor three-poimnt shooting and a clunky halfcourt offense were problematic. The Celtics were in the lead for much of the first half, and their smallness didn’t seem like a back-breaking disadvantage.

In the second half, however, the script flipped. The Sixers imposed their will on both ends, getting out in transition and powering through the Celtics’ defenders. Boston hung around, but the third quarter swung strongly in Philadelphia’s favor before the Sixers delivered a dagger in the fourth.

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The standout of the night was Ben Simmons, who tallied 24 points, eight boards, and nine assists on an efficient 11-for-16 shooting. One of the NBA’s quickest players at 6-foot-10, he used his unique speed and size to attack the paint and control the tempo. Shot or no shot, there aren’t too many answers to a LeBron-sized John Wall who’s unafraid of contact.

Aggressiveness aside, Simmons was also a much-improved finisher. It’s only one game, but he converted several good looks, he seldom settled for an unnecessary fadeaway, and he hit several off-balance shots with touch that has been uncharacteristic in the past.

The starting five as a whole gave mostly strong performances. Josh Richardson was as-advertised on defense, Horford was equally as stout, and Joel Embiid managed to exert his presence on both ends, despite foul trouble. Tobias Harris struggled, but still managed 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

It’s clear the Sixers will need time on offense. When the pace is slowed, a lack of shot creation and three-point shooting becomes painfully evident. The Sixers hit seven of 29 three-point attempts, good for a putrid 24.1 percent mark. Even that number is inflated by a brief hot streak in the fourth quarter.

Most nights won’t be quite as bad. Richardson, Horford, and Harris are all above league-average shooters, even if their shot versatility is limited. The bench, especially with Furkan Korkmaz getting a steady dosage of minutes (!), will also help space the floor.

Brett Brown seems locked into a nine-man rotation. It’s liable to change — this is opening night, of course — but Matisse Thybulle, James Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz, and Mike Scott were his weapons of choice (in that order, for the most part).

The Korkmaz inclusion was a moderate surprise, and some will rightfully question Brown’s thought process. Zhaire Smith was a healthy scratch, and the former No. 16 pick looked good in Vegas and got rave reviews this summer. But Korkmaz serves a clear purpose — floor spacing — and, to a shocking degree, he looked as though he belonged in this game. He gave Brown a solid 19 minutes.

For the Celtics, Kemba Walker struggled all night. Richardson fought through screens and Thybulle was a pest off the bench, though Walker did get the rook into foul trouble. Gordon Hayward‘s 25 points on 8-for-15 shooting stands out. Jayson Tatum dropped a less efficient 21.

A. <strong>34 mins | 24 pts | 8 reb | 9 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 4 TO | 11-16 FG | 0-0 3PT| 2-5 FT | 4 PF | +15 |</strong><p>Simmons was aggressive, pounding the ball inside, finishing with finesse, and showcasing his elite speed. He also dropped nine assists and grabbed eight rebounds, all while turning in a strong defensive performance. He did commit four turnovers and you’d prefer a better performance at the free throw line, but this was Simmons near his peak.</p>. PG. Philadelphia 76ers. BEN SIMMONS

B+. <strong>33 mins | 17 pts | 6 reb | 2 ast | 1 stl | 2 blk | 2 TO | 4-12 FG | 0-4 3PT| 9-9 FT | 4 PF | +22 |</strong><p>Richardson struggled a bit with efficiency and missed all four of his deep attempts. He made up for it, however, with several strong takes to the rim, earning nine free throw attempts and converting every one. His defense impressed, and he looked functional as the backup point guard.</p>. SG. Philadelphia 76ers. JOSH RICHARDSON

B. <strong>23 mins | 15 pts | 13 reb | 3 ast | 0 stl | 3 blk | 0 TO | 5-14 FG | 1-4 3PT| 4-8 FT | 5 PF | +16 |</strong><p>Embiid, saddled with foul trouble and on a load management plan, spent just 23 minutes on the court. He wasn’t needed much in the final frame, and game flow dictated minutes to the other starters. A strong third quarter, three blocks, and Embiid’s typical hulking presence on the glass all benefited Philadelphia. Even on a relatively slow night, it’s clear Embiid’s impact is singular.</p>. C. Philadelphia 76ers. JOEL EMBIID

AL HORFORD. B. <strong>31 mins | 16 pts | 2 reb | 3 ast | 1 stl | 0 blk | 1 TO | 5-13 FG | 1-6 3PT| 5-6 FT | 5 PF | +6 |</strong><p>Horford played steadfast D, took advantage of mismatches on offense, and played his typical ball-moving role. He struggled from deep, but the roster as a whole found itself in a funk. There are fit issues to work out, but Horford is hardly the problem. This was a good showing from the 33-year-old.</p>. PF. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers. MATISSE THYBULLE. B-. <strong>21 mins | 3 pts | 1 reb | 1 ast | 2 stl | 2 blk | 1 TO | 1-5 FG | 1-3 3PT| 0-0 FT | 5 PF | +5 |</strong><p>Thybulle didn’t do much offensively in his debut, which is understandable. He also got into quick foul trouble as Kemba Walker’s main defender behind Richardson, a challenging assignment for one’s first NBA game. Even so, it didn’t limit Brown’s willingness to use the rook, as he led the second unit with 21 minutes. After settling in, Thybulle looked the part of a disruptor who primed to play critical minutes from the get-go.</p>. SG

Philadelphia will need to figure out the offense. It’s an unfinished product, for sure. But the talent level, combined with elite defensive personnel, will translate. It translated in this game, and the Sixers placed their Boston demons far in the rearview mirror.

Next. Record predictions for the 2019-20 season. dark

In a nice dose of basketball poetry, Al Horford was the pre-game bell ringer. He also capped the win with a vicious one-handed slam in the final minute, closing the door on his former team. The Sixers are 1-0.