The Boston Celtics are entering the 2022-23 NBA season with a target on their back. They are no longer the "hunter", as they've made their transition into the "hunted" within the Eastern Conference. There's a long list of teams that fancy themselves contenders want to be where they are, atop the Eastern Conference. You hear the hype around the Sixers and this finally being the year and the right mix, you hear about how the Bucks are the actual East favorites despite ya know….losing to the Celtics in the playoffs. Now I won't make it seem like people don't believe in the Celts, because that would not be true. They're a wagon. But there are also things that have happened over the last few months that give you questions.
So what do the Celts do? They come out and have what I would call a near perfect Opening Night. From the Bill Russell tribute to the actual game, it was about as close to ideal as any Celtics fan could have wanted. Not just because they kicked the shit out of the Sixers (again), even though that will always be very enjoyable to watch, but because of the style in which they did it. The defense locked in when it needed to, the offense thrived, they didn't shit their pants late, it was all pretty much exactly how you would draw it up if someone asked you pregame how you wanted things to go.
What we saw was a team that has touched the NBA Finals and experienced a pain so profound that it completely changed their collective mindset. Did that look like a team that's going to fuck around to you? Sure didn't to me. I think we all wanted to see how the Celts would respond to this game, mostly because history tells you that any time they do any sort of honoring a legend, they somehow almost always lose that game. Last night I saw the Celtics that we watched from January-June. The version that was the best team in the NBA and kicked the shit out of every team they played (outside of GS, sigh). Like I said, it was as close to perfect as you could get.
As always, I should remind you to keep perspective. This was 1 of 82, which is true. But it was an important 1 to have. Opening night, honoring the greatest human to ever live, a divisional opponent who people fancy a title contender (lol), it was a game the Celts had to win,
They did, and it was glorious. So let's talk about it.
- I think we can all agree that Jayson Tatum had a brutal NBA Finals. That will probably stick with him and us for the rest of our collective lives. So I was interested to see how Tatum looked to start this season, mostly because we all know about his slow Octobers. I also knew that the Sixers do not employ a single defender that gives me a second of pause when it comes to stopping Jayson Tatum. Matisse Thybulle? Where was he? PJ Tucker? That dinosaur is going to shut down Jayson Tatum? Lol OK Daryl.
You might be shocked to learn this, but nobody on the Sixers roster was able to stop Jayson Tatum in this game. I don't even think they made him break a sweat which is pretty cool considering he had 35/12/4 on 13-20 shooting
We saw Tatum touch that God Level where he's so locked in offensively there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Once he starts hitting those tough contested jumpers by hitting nothing but net, it's a wrap for you. It doesn't matter what defense you throw at him or who you try and guard him with, you will not stop Jayson Tatum when he enters God Level. That's what makes him special, he's able to get to that extra level that the elite players in this league can get to.
But what makes Tatum special isn't just his offense. It's that he's legit a two way monster. The way he defended in this game tells me that he's gunning for an All NBA Defense spot this season. The way he got up into his man to provide ball pressure, his help defense, he had a steal and a block for good measure, it was the exact version of Jayson Tatum we all know needs to show up for this team to remain elite. For us to get it right away in Game 1 is a great sign. If you listen to him after the game, this is a man that is truly locked in
The explosion came in the 3rd quarter with Tatum nearly outscoring the entire Sixers team by himself (17 vs 25), and it's no surprise that in that quarter the Celts finally started to get their separation. For comparison, Embiid/Harden together only had 17 points in that frame. That seems fitting.
I loved that we got to see a little bit of Tatum's improved floater game too. That's a shot that was missing from his arsenal last year and we heard about it all summer so to see it right away and for it to be effective is something to keep an eye on. That's a shot that can get Tatum 4-6 more points a game and can open up so much for him offensively. We've been waiting for him to have a passable floater, and through one game it sure as shit looks like we finally have it.
- I've said for a long time the coolest part about having both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on your favorite team is the fact that you have BOTH Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on your favorite team. I don't consider them a #1 and a #2, I consider them two #1s. Case in point? Last night
Ho hum, just a cool 35/3/2/2/1 on 14-24 shooting. That's pretty good I guess. If you're not a huge math guy because let's be honest who the fuck does math anymore, that's 70 points between the two franchise guys. If that feels like a lot or pretty rare, it's because it is
The last time anyone has seen what Jaylen and Jayson did on Opening Night was 1969. It's 2022 if you somehow forgot.
Back to Jaylen though because he deserves a little more. When it came time to close the deal of this game, Jaylen delivered. We all know how brutal this team can look in the 4th quarter. It's one of the questions I have about them this season under Mazzulla. Would things look any better when it mattered?
I'll have you know that Jaylen scored 13 of his 35 in that 4th quarter to lead all scorers and he shot 5-7 (3-5) from the floor. The Sixers were never truly able to come back in those final 12 minutes because Jaylen simply wouldn't allow it. When the team needed that knockout blow, he was there to provide it.
I also loved what we heard from him postgame too in regard to the Smart incident
That my friends, is a leader. That's what Jaylen is and will continue to be. Sticking up for his guy and making it known that the 2022-23 Boston Celtics are not going to put up with any shit. I LOVE that.
- When Brad first traded for Malcolm Brogdon, he did a story with The Athletic where he talked about how he felt he could help calm this team down in the fourth quarter and be a veteran presence that could help them stay the course in those tight moments. It's something that the roster certainly needed at times in the playoffs last season, so I think we all were excited to see if that would actually be the case.
Well, I'm happy to report that's exactly what Brogdon did in his very first game as a Celtic
The line was exactly what you want from Brogdon in his role. He finished with 16/2/4 on 7-11 shooting in his 23 minutes, and it's hard to pick a favorite part of his debut. I find myself to be obsessed with his rim pressure and the fact that he actually makes his layups. That's a HUGE plus for a team that often refuses to make their layups. This game was a perfect example of what is going to make this team so hard to guard when Brogdon is on the floor. He can create his own shot whenever he wants, and he's so good at attacking the paint and getting to the rim that defenses have to make a choice. Either you collapse on him and leave shooters, or you don't and Brogdon finishes at the rim. If they had this player in the NBA Finals, the Celts win the whole thing.
But I think my true favorite part of his debut was the fact that he did exactly what he talked about after the trade. The Celts started the fourth quarter with both Jays on the bench. That could have been a big time danger zone as the lead was trimmed to around 4-6 points. What did Brogdon do? He didn't panic and he got everyone settled. He made two huge buckets in his 5:25 minutes of floor time, then the starters came in with 5 minutes left and closed it out. This team only lost 1 point off their lead at the end of Brogdon's 4th quarter shift with no Jays on the floor. That was incredible and EXACTLY what they needed.
- There were a lot of questions as to how the Celts would defend Joel Embiid. All I had to hear about was how he was going to dominate the Celts bigs because Rob was out.
The numbers speak for themselves
After some late game stat padding once the game was already over, Embiid finished with 26/15/5 on 9-18 shooting. That looks good right? Cool, in reality, he was a complete non-factor. Up until those last end of game buckets, he had 7 FGM and 6 TOs while being put in jail by Noah Vonleh. That's a real sentence that is the straight up truth.
What the Celts were awesome with in this game was their delayed doubles. Even after all these years, Embiid still doesn't know what to do with that shit. He panics or reacts way too slow, which bogs down their offense. There's a reason you can't have that approach against someone like Jokic or Giannis, they are WAY too good at finding guys and using their playmaking skills. With Embiid, you don't have to worry about that nearly as much
Anytime Embiid put the ball on the floor, the Celts help defenders swarmed him and the next thing you knew the Celts were off to the races in transition. It was a true collective effort by this team when it came to limiting Embiid's impact, and they did it all without Rob. Shoutout Noah Vonleh man, seriously. I didn't know what to expect given that he played in China last year, but if this is what we can expect on a nightly basis from him, I'm all in. Brad hit again.
- What's the one thing we know kills this team? Turnovers. It cost them a title. So you can imagine how happy I was to see that the Celts only turned the ball over 10 times in this game. That's a number I think we can all get behind.
Oh, they also outrebounded the Sixers 36-31 and surrendered only 4 OREB. That was massive as well.
- All summer all I had to hear was people cry about Marcus Smart's DPOY. Those poor losers, I know things are tough for them right now. Sadly, it doesn't look like much is going to change given what we saw from Smart on the defensive end last night
I thought Smart played his role perfectly last night. He only took 8 FGA which was 4th on the team, his passing was flat out terrific as he led the Celts with 7 assists and only 1 TO, and he defended at a DPOY level
Not to mention it was Smart's three in the third quarter that pushed the Celts over the hump. Guys like Al and White had missed their big momentum threes, but Smart came through and got the lead from 4-6 into the 7-9 range. From there, the Celts coasted.
This game was a perfect example of why we Love and Trust.
- Let's talk about Joe Mazzulla for a second. For starters, this video has me feeling things I didn't know I could feel
For the most part I thought Joe was solid. I know that if Ime was the coach and the Celts played like they did, we would all be over the moon, so the same should be true for Joe. He kept them focused despite all the bullshit, his rotations and timeouts were fine, his late game adjustments worked. It was about as solid a debut as you could ask for.
More important though, we need to talk about the fact that this man chews gum harder than any human I've ever seen. He has to go through dozens of sticks of gum over the course of a game. I couldn't stop watching that shit. There's no chance that gum had any flavor after the first or second chomp given how that man chews gum. I don't know what Wyc's gum budget is, but he probably needs to up it.
- I want to be conservative when I say this, but right now Grant's current price is a max. Sorry, that's just the truth. When he plays the way he did in this game there's no way around him getting the bag in RFA and that's fine by me. He filled his role to perfection. Did some stuff off the dribble, defended well, hit his timely corner threes, I mean the guy didn't miss a shot (15 points on 5-5).
All we heard about this summer was how good these new Sixers bench players were and how valuable PJ Tucker would be. Grant literally outscored every single one of them combined. How embarrassing for the Sixers.
- The fact that this team didn't crumble under the pressure or all the bullshit with Embiid is a HUGE sign. That stuff would have gotten in their heads in previous seasons and the next thing you know the Celts lose by double digits. Instead, they remained composed, took a breath, and stayed focused. That's maturity.
- We all waited months for last night. It was the first game of the new NBA season, tons of eyeballs are watching this game. It's a big deal. So the fact that TNT's audio was fucked up for the entire game was beyond bullshit. It made the game close to unwatchable with the sound on. The audio being 1 or 2 seconds ahead of the video for the entire game was awful. I was hearing things that were happening, yet my eyes weren't watching it. The whistles were the worst because you would hear it when a player first started their drive and you're sitting there wondering where the foul was, only to see that it was actually on the layup that came a second later.
The fact that they still didn't fix it after halftime was even more annoying. Figure it the fuck out. If you're going to take away Mike and Scal from me, at least give me a watchable broadcast. That was bullshit.
- I was actually shocked that we basically didn't see Sam Hauser and Payton was a DNP-CD in this game. Payton I can maybe understand because of the guard depth, but I was surprised to see Hauser not get any real run. He's missed maybe 5 times in his entire life and you could always use shooting, but maybe this was just a case of Joe running with the main guys for a little longer than normal because of the opponent/home opener situation. We'll have to see how that goes, because both of those dudes can play.
- The fouls were pretty insane for both sides in my opinion. A total of 56 FTA and 49 fouls is not how the NBA wanted to debut their season I would imagine. It killed all the flow of the game. I know the Sixers are FT merchants and all that shit, but man. That was a tough watch at times. Every five seconds there was a foul by someone to the point where you just expected it whenever a player did literally anything.
- I still didn't love the 4th quarter offensive approach for stretches. Of the Celts 19 FGA, 12 were 3PA. I'd say their first 4-5 shots to start the frame were all 3PA, and that's how the Sixers sneaky got back into it behind the play of Maxey. Shit like that just gives me PTSD from Game 4 of the Finals, and every 4th quarter collapse we see is rooted in that offensive approach. The starters righted the ship which was great, but that's something I would like to see addressed before Friday.
- By now we've all seen the Embiid play
Not much more needs to be said that I didn't talk about last night. It was a dirty play by Embiid who 100000% knew what he was doing. It's not the first time he's done shady shit like this and it won't be the last. Kind of pathetic if you ask me, but hey enjoy the L.
- It's bullshit that if a player rightfully complains about a call to the point where it gets overturned, that the tech he received for arguing that call doesn't get rescinded. From the 3pt shooting fouls on Harden, to the clear path foul on Maxey, to the Embiid bullshit, this was most certainly not the most even whistle we've ever seen. That's fine, you come to expect it when you play teams like PHI/MIL but holy shit was that brutal.
Again, the Celts not letting it mess with their game was massive.
So here we sit, 1-0 and boy does it feel great. My biggest takeaway from this game was the fact that the Celts still look like the Celts, and that's a very good thing moving forward. They look like a team that is ready for redemption and if they play like they did last night, this is going to be a great season.
All I know is it needs to be Friday already. I need Game 2.