PHILADELPHIA, PA – The approach for the 76ers going into Friday’s home opener was a straightforward one.
Give the loyal, pumped up, sold out crowd of 20,816 something to “cheer for and cheer about,” Brett Brown said about an hour and half before tip-off at The Center.
“Rarely has it been any simpler than just spilling your guts on the floor, and playing hard,” was how the fifth-year head coach put it.
Brown’s team seemed to take that mindset to heart, battling the best it could through a choppy Atlantic Division affair against the Boston Celtics. The undermanned C’s, however, delivered a strong enough closing kick to topple the Sixers, 102-92.
“We were up in the third period,” said Brett Brown,” and you felt like with a few more baskets they might have gone away. I give the Celtics credit.”
JJ Redick paced the Sixers with 19 points. He connected on 7 of 16 field goal attempts, including 4 of 7 tries from 3-point territory. The veteran sharpshooter has now gone 8 for 15 from beyond the arc to begin his 12th pro campaign.
“There’s a learning curve in the NBA to figure out how to win, not just for individual players, but for teams, especially a young team, a team that hasn’t played a ton together,” said Redick. “We’ve got to figure out what it means to have a winning mentality.”
Redick knows full well the Sixers have worked hard and competed their tails off in recent seasons. Now, he believes, it’s a matter of backing up that level of effort with results.
“It’s a hard thing to do, it is,” he said, “but I believe in this team, for sure.”
Redick’s new backcourt running mate, Jerryd Bayless, provided the Sixers with a steady hand, too. Making his second straight start at shooting guard, the 29-year old buried 4 triples of his own, netting 18 points, a mark he reached just seven times the previous two years.
Ben Simmons, meanwhile, made franchise history Friday. With 10 points (4-11 fg, 3-6 ft) and 11 rebounds, he became the first player in franchise history, and 11th person in NBA history, to register a double-double in each of his first two career games. The Australian rookie handed out 5 assists as well.
Simmons credited Boston for being the more aggressive, attacking club in crunch time, but felt that at various stages of the night, the Sixers’ showed flashes of the type of team they could eventually become.
“It’s a scary sight,” Simmons said of the Sixers’ potential, “but at the same time, we’ve got to get together, otherwise it’s not going to happen. I think we’re getting there. Everyone’s starting to gel and figure it out.”
For the second time in as many outings, Joel Embiid racked up a double-double. He did so behind 11 points (4-16 fg, 0-6 3fg, 3-3 ft) and 14 boards, the latter figure matching a career-high originally set last January versus the New York Knicks.
After falling behind by as many as 8 points in the second quarter, the Sixers summoned up an impressive response, en route to closing the first half on a 21-9 spurt. Bayless and Redick helped key the turnaround with their outside shooting, as the Sixers mounted a 50-46 lead at the break.
Dario Saric, who came off the bench Friday, did his part to advance the run. The forward ended the evening with 9 points (4-10 fg) and 10 rebounds.
“I thought Dario had a really good first half,” said Brown.
The Sixers carried a 3-point edge, 72-69, into the fourth frame, but Boston clamped down, and ultimately outscored its hosts 33-20 over the final 12 minutes of regulation. The victory was the Celts’ first in three tries.
“In the fourth, we couldn’t get stops,” said Redick. “We got good looks, but just didn’t get stops.”
Kyrie Irving topped all players with 21 points. The All-Star point guard, which Boston acquired from Cleveland in a trade this summer, tallied 5 points in the last five minutes of action to keep the Sixers at bay.
Al Horford posted 17 points and 9 rebounds, while Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin combined for 24 valuable points off the bench. All three, along with Irving, were decisive in putting Boston over the top.
The sequence below features what was arguably Friday’s most authoritative sequence involving Joel Embiid. Markelle Fultz, who chipped in with 6 points against Boston, served as the center’s set up man.
The Sixers will complete their first of 14 back-to-back sets on the season with a second straight Atlantic Division match-up, visiting the Toronto Raptors Saturday (7:30 PM EST). The Raps, which saw their three-year run atop the Atlantic Division end this past spring, re-upped with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka this summer. Toronto downed Chicago, 117-100, in its opener Thursday at Air Canada Centre.