On Tuesday night, it quickly became evident that the Sixers struggles against the Boston Celtics will continue into the new season.
Led by 20 year-old Jayson Taytum, the Celtics pulled away late in the 3rd quarter en route to a 103-87 victory. In addition to Taytum, who put up 23 points and 9 rebounds, the Celtics were fueled by a bench that outscored the Sixers 44-26.
In the 2017-2018 season, the young Sixers played their worst basketball against the defensive minded Celtics. Including the infamous 5 game playoff series that proved to be a disaster for Philadelphia, Brett Brown’s team was 2-7 against their division rival, including 1-4 in Boston.
The deficiencies that plagued the Sixers in that series last May remained and overshadowed a shining performance from point guard Ben Simmons. Simmons, who finished just 3 assists shy of a triple-double, stuffed the stat sheet with highlight reel after highlight reel in the first half. Perhaps his best play of the night came on a no look, over the shoulder pass to a cutting Markelle Fultz, who finished with a clean lay-up. None of this mattered at the end of the night, however, as sloppy play and poor shooting dissolved any chance to compete with the deepest team in the Eastern Conference.
What sort of witchcraft is this, Ben Simmons?!?
What a pass to Fultz. Sixers trail, 38-36. pic.twitter.com/jz5AKtPnxq
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) October 17, 2018
The Sixers have led the NBA in turnovers the past 2 years, so it should come as no surprise that they began the season with 16 against one of the most active defenses in the NBA. While Joel Embiid led the team with 23 points, he also coughed the ball up 5 times, mainly on unforced errant passes that flew out of bounds. Embiid’s point total is also misleading, as he struggled in the paint against Aaron Baynes and Al Horford and often settled for high-difficulty, low-percentage shots, finishing the night 9-21 from the field.
Embiid and Simmons failed to get much help from the rest of the starting lineup, as Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington combined for only 19 points on 8-25 shooting. The team shot a combined 19.2% from beyond the arch, far below the 36.9% rate they finished with in the 2017-2018 season.
While a team as talented as the Sixers can get away with turnovers and bad shooting against bad teams, they cannot do so against a team like the Celtics and expect to win. These are the issues that cost them a chance to reach the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and they need to clean them up to give themselves a chance to beat great teams like the Celtics in a best-of-7 series.
The Sixers did not get great bench play Tuesday night, but adding the injured Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler later in the season will help relieve Simmons and Embiid. A line up of Fultz, TJ McConnell, Landry Shamet, Dario Saric, and Amir Johnson, which saw the floor in the 3rd quarter, cannot keep games close while the guys needed in the closing minutes get rest. Bench improvement will give the Sixers depth similar to what they had late last year, when Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli helped the team close out the season with 16 straight wins.
The 76ers are back in action on Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls in their home opener. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM ET.
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports