The 2015-16 NBA season is finally underway and the Boston Celtics got things started tonight at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. This is certainly a season of promise for Boston, after a 20-9 finish last year and a playoff berth. Every key player is back, including Isaiah Thomas, whose acquisition late last season was without doubt a critical factor in the team’s end-of-season surge. Veteran forwards David Lee and Amir Johnson were added to the mix this summer. After a 6-1 run through the preseason, this group took the floor tonight to open the regular season in coach Brad Stevens’ third year with the team.
Things got off to a rocky start in the 1st quarter. The Celtics starters struggled to score and Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor, the 3rd pick in this year’s draft, looked right at home working the same moves he did all last season with Duke. He finished the quarter with 10 points, including 8 straight during one stretch for Philly, and the Sixers entered the 2nd period holding a 26-21 lead.
Boston flipped a switch in front of the home crowd, however, taking off on a 17-2 run to begin the quarter behind 6 points from Thomas, who picked up right where he left off last season, when he averaged 19 points in 21 games for the Celtics. Marcus Smart knocked down a buzzer beater three to put an exclamation point on things and Boston headed into halftime leading 51-40, after outscoring Philadelphia 30-14 overall in the 2nd.
The Isaiah Thomas show continued in the 3rd quarter. He totaled 13 points in the period as the Celtics held court and took a 79-67 lead into the 4th. From there they stretched things out against an inexperienced Sixers team. Jonas Jerebko threw down a nasty dunk and followed that up with a corner three to push the Boston lead to 15 with 9:20 remaining. They weren’t challenged again after that and cruised to their first win of the season by a final score of 112-95.
Thomas led the team in scoring and assists with 27 and 7 respectively. The Celtics dished out 31 total on 39 field goals, well above their mark of 24.5 a game from a season ago. That bodes well moving forward. Outside of Thomas, Boston doesn’t have a player who’s great at creating his own shot. Setting up one another will be critical for this team to put points on the board. David Lee contributed 5 assists from the forward spot in his first game as a Celtic and Smart added 5 as well.
Amir Johnson looked great in his first game in green. He put up 15 points and 7 rebounds off the bench and provided relentless energy in his 20 minutes on the floor. He scored on tip-ins and alley-oops, worked the pick and roll with Thomas, and added 2 blocks as well. Rookies Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey checked in with 1:58 remaining for their first NBA minutes. Fellow rookie R.J. Hunter was out sick and could see his first action Friday when the Celtics take on the Raptors.
On the Sixers’ side, Okafor finished with 26 points and 7 rebounds in his first NBA game. His frontcourt mate Nerlens Noel added 14 and 12. Strong numbers for Philadelphia’s two most promising players, but in the end they couldn’t keep up with Boston and Thomas. The Celtics totaled 26 fast break points to the Sixers’ 7, and knocked down 26 of 27 free throws.
It’s true Philadelphia is likely to end up at the bottom of the conference, but this was still a fantastic effort from Brad Stevens’ squad to open the season. They took care of business against a lesser opponent and got off to the right start. They’ll be tested Friday against Toronto, a team they’re looking to leap past this season in the Atlantic Division. That game should tell us a lot more about what to expect from the Celtics as this season begins to unfold.
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