PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t pretty – in fact, it was ugly – but pretty doesn’t win basketball games. Points do, and the Celtics scored more of them than Philadelphia did Friday night to earn their first victory of the season.
“Man, it just felt good to get a win,” Al Horford said with an emphatic smile and a sigh of relief following his team’s 102-92 victory.
The ugliness of this game cannot be overstated. The Celtics were down three major contributors in Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris, and the young and inexperienced 76ers showed nerves while playing their highly-anticipated season opener.
No one brought their A-game to Wells Fargo Center on this night – not the Celtics, not the Sixers, and not even the referees.
A Friday night matchup that doubled as Philadelphia’s ceremonial home opener, debuting its youthful Big 3 of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, soon turned into what appeared like a bad version of a pick-up game. Foul after foul after foul was whistled. Shot after shot after shot was missed. Turnover after turnover after turnover was committed.
“It was not a pretty game tonight,” said Shane Larkin, who served as a sparkplug off of Boston’s bench.
The final combined tallies for the contest: 54 personal fouls, 39.8 percent shooting, and 36 turnovers.
The first three quarters of the game were difficult to watch, to put it kindly. One could only imagine how difficult they were to play in.
The pace of play was completely disjointed. Neither team had any semblance of a rhythm, and whistles were being blown on nearly every possession.
Boston trailed 72-69 heading into the fourth quarter, and it had connected on only 35.8 percent of its shots and 60.0 percent of its free throws.
Brad Stevens opted to open up the final period with a fivesome of Larkin, Terry Rozier, Jabari Bird – who, as one of Boston’s two-way contracts, was called up Wednesday night – Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis.
Believe it or not, that inexperienced group, and in particular, the young backcourt duo of Rozier and Larkin, helped the Celtics find their way.
“I thought Terry and Shane got us going there for a while,” Stevens said after the game. “And then we had a great deal of purpose.”
The duo slowed down the pace of the game, pushing their team into quality half-court sets that were few and far between during the first three quarters of the game. Boston made seven of its first eight shots of the quarter, and by the time Kyrie Irving replaced Rozier at the 6:45 mark of the quarter, the C’s were in front 86-84.
Rozier finished the contest with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Larkin contributed 10 points and four assists.
Irving helped to extend Boston’s lead following his re-entry to the game, as he scored seven points during the final five minutes. Boston’s played with a purpose during the fourth quarter, as Stevens said after the game, and it held on for a 10-point victory.
The C’s are only four days into its season, and they beat a Philadelphia team that has proven nothing, so many may marginalize the win. The Celtics, however, will not.
“It was a big win for us,” Horford stated. “I know it’s only the third game of the season, but for us, it was a big win. Already having Gordon out, and then Marcus – which, I believe, is the soul of our team – also being out, it put pressure on other guys to step up, and guys were able to answer.”
Added Larkin, “Everybody can see it: we’re facing so much adversity with the first few games of the year.”
Adversity surely didn’t disappear Friday night. This was as adverse a contest as the Celtics have played in quite some time in terms of the flow of the game and the challenges the contest presented.
In the end, though, they banded together and found a way to deposit this matchup into the win column. That’s what’s important.
Boston has the proverbial monkey off of its back, and though Friday’s victory couldn’t be described as pretty, it was described in another very important way.
“This is a great win. This is a really, really hard win,” Stevens told the media. “This is a really good one to build off of.”