Sixers sent a warning sign to the rest of the NBA in preseason opener

Joel embiid
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 05: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) looks on during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 05, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Tuesday night saw Sixers basketball return as they took on their arch-rivals, the Boston Celtics, in their first pre-season game. The game marked the start of a new era in Philly as head coach Doc Rivers took charge of the team for the first time, with a roster that new front office hire, Daryl Morey, worked hard on building over the past month. It’s safe to say, it was a great start for the new management and roster. 

Even though this was a pre-season game, it was always going to be a really interesting game to see what Doc Rivers and the new guys would bring to the team straight away. There were a lot of positives for the Sixers as they recovered from an early slump to beat the Celtics and start the new era off with a win, but two things really stood out to me. One was the center play for the Sixers, and the other was the major improvement on defense. 

The Sixers defense stole the show

One of the main questions about the Doc signing was ‘How will the defense Sixers improve?’ Well, last night showed the beginnings of an exciting defensive team as the Sixers really turned it up a notch. They attacked the boards really well, and it wasn’t just the players you’d expect. Tobias Harris ended up with 9 rebounds, whilst new addition Vincent Poirier notched 4 against his former team over 5 minutes, with the rest coming from guys like Dwight Howard and even Shake Milton.  

The defensive side of the ball was always going to improve with Ben Simmons on the court, but the Sixers managed to hold both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to 15 points combined and only allowed 3 players on the Celtics to end up with double-digit points. Their pick and roll defense looked so much better than last year, and it worked really well for them in the game, they tightened up on the top of the arc and closed down both lanes on the players who tried to take advantage of the pick and roll.  

One of the most surprising factors of the defensive performance for the Sixers was the steals. Danny Green astonishingly ended up with 4 in the first quarter alone and considering the Sixers only averaged 8 per game last year, getting 11 against a quality team like the Celtics was impressive to say the least. 

Center of attention

Another aspect of the Sixers that really impressed me night was the depth they have at center. Compared to last year where it was pretty much Joel on his own, given the whole Al Horford at power forward experiment, this year they have 4 great options. Embiid looked strong picking up 18 points in 17 minutes, but it was the impact from the guys off the bench that really worked for the Sixers. 

Last season, the Sixers really struggled to add a different dimension to their game when it came to making rotations. That wasn’t the case against thhe Celtics. They constantly had a threat at center, with Dwight Howard, Tony Bradley, and Vincent Poirier all making solid impacts when coming off the bench. 

The pick and roll was virtually impossible for the Celtics to stop. Teams have always been able to allow the pick and roll from the Sixers to work because they never really made them scared of the end product. Now, with guys like Seth Curry and Danny Green shooting uncontested 3’s, defenses will have to focus on shutting down a new element of the Sixers offense, and it’s easier said than done when you have two of the most physical centers in the NBA in Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard setting screens. 

A sign of things to come

Obviously, it’s too early to get excited about the future for the Sixers, it was a pre-season game after all. Plus, you have to remember that the Celtics didn’t have a proper center with both Daniel Theis and Tristian Thompson out.  

However, the Sixers really impressed and improved factors of their game that everyone knew could work but weren’t for one reason or another. The new roster seems to be built almost perfectly for the system that Doc Rivers wants to run and it seems like the team should finally be amongst the big boys in the East and challenging for a very high spot in the division. 

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire