In case you didn’t hate the Boston Celtics enough, here is what Celtics fans will be wearing during the season opener to add more fuel to the fire…
— Xanbar Bogaerts (@ColeyMick) October 11, 2018
So it’s finally here! The Philadelphia 76ers will open the regular season against Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics on October 16th. The last time the Sixers played the Celtics was in a 114-112 defeat that sent Philadelphia home for the offseason during a 4-1 loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. During that game, Joel Embiid looked like Judge Dredd, TJ McConnell was nearly playing 40 minutes, Robert Covington forgot how to shoot, and Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova were getting eaten alive on defense.
That loss left a bad taste in Brett Brown’s mouth, who publicly committed to the term “star hunting” in June sans Bryan Colangelo (who, you may remember, resigned after his wife admitted to operating Twitter accounts that criticized the team’s best players). “Star hunting” quickly turned into “star developing” when LeBron signed with the Lakers, Paul George re-signed with Oklahoma City, and Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors. The Sixers did their best Hinkie impression when they traded Mikal Bridges (10th pick) to the Suns for Zhaire Smith and an unconditional 2021 first round pick owned by the Miami Heat.
“Star developing” begins and ends with Markelle Fultz, who spent the bulk of the offseason taking 150,000 jump shots with shooting guru Drew Hanlen with a much more efficient shooting release. Fast forward to October – a healthy training camp and 2/4 solid games from Fultz during the preseason has given Brett Brown enough confidence to groom Markelle as secondary facilitator in the starting lineup. Will Markelle’s jumpshot translate, or is it only a matter of time before JJ Redick retakes his rightful place at shooting guard? Only time will tell.
Prior to the start of the season, Brett Brown also made it clear on the goals for this season – to make the NBA Finals. LeBron went to the Western Conference, and that leaves the door to winning the East wide open for the taking. The Sixers first test – a Boston Celtics team that is finally healthy to start the 2018/19 season. Gordon Hayward, who has not looked good this preseason as he knocks off some completely understandable rust, makes his eagerly anticipated return to the court for the Celtics. For a regular season opener, this is as big as it gets, and it pits two fan-bases that absolutely despise each other. The overreaction from fans of the losing team will be unreal on social media. It simply doesn’t get better than this. NBA basketball is back, baby!
When: Tuesday, October 16th at 8pm
Where: TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts
PG: Ben Simmons
SG: Markelle Fultz
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Dario Saric
C: Joel Embiid
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford… but lots and lots of Baynes
What To Watch For
Joel Embiid vs the hearts of Celtics fans/Man Bun
Yes, the Celtics are a great team. Yes, they have a great coach. Yes, Jayson Tatum was incredibly impressive last year. But the Celtics don’t have one thing – Joel Embiid. Let’s ask a serious question: How many times has a Boston Celtic kissed a man from China on the forehead? Sixers 1- Boston 0. Joel Embiid made it clear that he aspires to be in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year conversation this season. Embiid had his first full offseason to train and had an incredible preseason, averaging 23 points in 24.5 minutes per game in four games. The Boston Celtics will start Al Horford, but expect Brad Stevens to throw Man Bun (Aron Baynes) at Embiid early and often to slow him down as much as possible. Guess what, Boston…the mask is off. Joel Embiid is hungry, and it’s BBQ chicken time on all Celtics bigs.
— NOW IN SPORTS (@NOW_insports) October 5, 2018
Ben Simmons vs Brad Stevens’ Defense
Make no mistake, Brad Stevens exposed Simmons in last year’s playoffs. The athleticism of the Celtics’ wings caused havoc for Sixers’ shooters to get open, and Brad Stevens forced Ben to beat them with his jump shot. Ben refused to shoot open shots, and the rest is history. During the offseason, Ben acknowledged the need to increase his confidence and hit shots from 10-15 feet. However, we’ve only seen one Ben Simmons jumpshot in four games this preseason. Ben comes into this season with an improved free throw form, and Brett made it clear that the goal is to get Ben closer to the rim in order to draw fouls. This was evident all throughout the preseason, but Ben only got to the free throw line 14 times in those four games (3.5 per game).
Ben Simmons working at the foul line after practice. No attempts in first preseason game. pic.twitter.com/wFvgBHXhRw
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) September 30, 2018
The Psyche of Markelle Fultz vs The TD Garden
One thing is for sure, fans at the TD Garden will be ravenous when Markelle makes his first steps onto the court. Similar to Gordon Hayward, Markelle Fultz makes his eagerly awaited “re-debut” as the Sixers’ starting shooting guard. In four games in the preseason, Markelle averaged 9 points in 22.5 minutes per game. Fultz struggled mightily in China, largely because he simply could not stay out of foul trouble. Brett Brown has recently stated that Markelle will start at SG in the first with JJ Redick starting at SG in the second half. There are many question marks regarding Markelle’s fit alongside Ben Simmons. Will Ben and Markelle be able share the ball while remaining effective? Fultz must confidently shoot from the perimeter for all of this to work. The confidence seemed to be back during the preseason; fingers crossed it translates to the regular season. This is, without a doubt, one of the biggest question marks coming into the regular season for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The best of @MarkelleF in 2018 preseason!
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) October 12, 2018
The New Guys
Newbies Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, and Mike Muscala figure to be major parts of the Sixers this season. However, the Sixers took a hit when Wilson Chandler tweaked his hamstring on September 30th. Brett Brown has recently said that Wilson is “a ways away” from returning, so don’t expect Chandler in the season opener. Mike Muscala will fit in nicely for Ersan Ilyasova this year as the team’s stretch 4/5 off the bench. Unfortunately, he is also doubtful for Tuesday’s opener with a right ankle sprain. The biggest Shocker (pun intended) came from rookie Landry Shamet this preseason, who the Sixers took 26th in the first round. Landry is a JJ Redick clone who can fly off screens, move off the ball, and nail open shots from 3 with consistency. While not overly athletic, Landry Shamet has quick feet and will surely make Celtics fans remember the name on Tuesday. Shamet (as well as Muscala and Chandler when healthy) is a very nice piece who can space the floor and fit seamlessly with Ben Simmons’ ability to create open shots for others.
The End of Teej?
Brett Brown has made it very clear that he has every intention to get Markelle Fultz as many minutes as possible at point guard. So where does this leave TJ McConnell? McConnell played nearly 40 minutes per game in games 4 and 5 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals vs Boston. We will never forget “The TJ Game,” during game 4 when Teej had 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists, helping prevent the Sixers from getting swept. During the preseason, most of TJ’s appearances came in the fourth quarter to provide leadership and stability for the Sixers’ young guys like Furkan Korkmaz and Jonah Bolden. Listen, TJ is the definition of team player, and I have zero concerns regarding his attitude with decreased playing time if the team is successful. However, the elephant in the room is that this is a contract year for our man Teej, and I personally would hate seeing him unable to get playing time.
Brett Brown’s Offense
A great bulk of Brett Brown’s offense included shooters running off ball, setting screens, and handoffs to get our shooters open. However, a lot of this included Ben creating or leaving his feet at the perimeter. Here are some typical sets within Brett Brown’s offense from last year.
I’m not saying we’ll see less handoffs. But I do think we should be seeing more plays involving Ben receiving the ball closer to the rim. One goal for this season should be to allow Ben or Joel to create for others via post-ups and/or high-low sets. A large chunk of what we saw in half-court sets this season included Ben playing off the ball, hanging near the baseline, cutting to the basket, and/or posting up from the elbow. My point is this: JJ Redick was a huge part of the Sixers offense with spacing and running off screens. With Markelle replacing JJ in the starting lineup, how efficient will the offense be this year? Something certainly to keep an eye on. One thing is for sure, Fultz must shoot and be in constant attack mode. Four free throw attempts in four games from Markelle Fultz this preseason is a major concern.
Can Dario Saric Keep Up?
Believe me, I love The Homie more than the next guy, but the truth is the Boston Celtics are a terrible matchup for Dario, especially on defense. Plus/Minus stats don’t tell the whole story, but Dario Saric was a negative on the court during all five games against the Boston Celtics in last year’s playoffs (-20 in game 1, -12 in game 2, -8 in game 3, -1 in game 4, -2 in game 5). The athleticism and length of Boston’s wings gave Dario fits on defense. Look for Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward to continue attacking Dario Saric on defense.
Prediction: Sixers beat the Celtics 102-96
Joel Embiid and the Sixers will come out hot in the first half, building a comfortable lead. The Boston Celtics will make it a close game in the 4th quarter, but Ben is out for revenge in this game. Ben leads the Sixers to victory in crunch time and gets his first triple double of the season.
We will never forget the time…
Brett Brown walks off the court after Marco Belinelli’s late field goal with seconds remaining vs Boston during game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Brett thought it was a three and pointed to Brad Stevens while walking off the court. Love you Brett, but people don’t forget…
LET’S GO SIXERS!!!