PHILADELPHIA — For anyone who watched the Celtics’ wretched whistle-and-brick filled season-opener in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the last thing they wanted to hear Boston coach Brad Stevens say was that he's, “a lot more encouraged than discouraged.”
Encouraged?! From Al Horford ringing the Sixers bell in his new red, white, and blue duds on to Horford driving a closeout and throwing down a different sort of hammer late in the game — and the entire 2 hour, 33 minute rock fight in between — there didn’t seem much for Stevens to be upbeat about.
Certainly not the 57 missed shots, or the 19 missed 3-pointers. Not the 14 missed free throws, and especially not the 29 fouls that sapped the game of any rhythm as Philadelphia pulled away for a 107-93 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
By the end of the night, the locals were chanting “Boston sucks!” and, at least based on what they’d seen on this night, it was hard to argue with their review.
Alas, Stevens is not one to overreact, especially not to one game. And it was all those missed shots that encouraged Stevens — or at least the notion that his team will rarely do it again.
So while it was hard to watch Kemba Walker miss 14 shots in his Boston debut and Jayson Tatum miss 14 more, Stevens boldly declared, "All that means is, [Walker] and Tatum, there’s a lot of good nights coming.”
Make no mistake, Stevens wasn’t thrilled with everything. Jaylen Brown had four fouls called against him by the end of the national anthem. The Sixers were perpetually in the bonus. A lot of the good the Celtics did, defensively, was negated by the team’s inability to make its own open shots.
And it didn’t help that the other departed All-Star, whose name rhymes with Myrie, made exactly the same number of 3-pointers (7) as Stevens’ entire roster as part of a 50-point debut for Brooklyn on Thursday night.
Stevens noted that no team’s story is told after one game and pledged that the Celtics would learn from the loss. It’s worth remembering that Boston logged an opening-night triumph over Philadelphia last season and that certainly didn’t dictate how their season unfolded,
There were a couple of areas to really like, including how Gordon Hayward looked aggressive while putting up a team-high 25 points that included getting to the free-throw line 11 times. Tatum didn’t have a great shooting night but eight of his attempts overall came at the rim and the 21-year-old showed a desire to consistently attack. There were areas of concern too like some poor interior defense (and Enes Kanter left limping, too), which only hammered home the loss of Horford.
Stevens had pleaded for patience out of the gate this season given the daunting nature of the schedule and has routinely suggested heading into opening night that the first few games would serve as information gathering that would allow the team to truly set its expectations.
For his part, Walker said of his shooting woes, “I thought I got my shots, the shots I love to take. I thought I got to my spots. I just missed, yeah. Later he added, “I don’t think I was pressing."
Walker put up some gaudy numbers against Philadelphia last year, including a 60-point barrage. He didn’t have it on this night and couldn’t rescue his team.
"We just made some small mistakes, defensively, down the stretch that we have to be better with,” said Walker. "We’re still learning each other. I know we’ve been through preseason and stuff like that, but it takes time for teams to really come together and get better and be in rhythm. So, Game 1. Obviously it sucks that we lost but I think we’re still extremely confident. We still believe in each other. It’s a long year.”
Yes, deep breaths Celtics fans. There’s still a long way to go.
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