While the current state of play in the NBA has been earth-shatteringly altered by Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors, the future for the Celtics still looks bright. And for the Celtics and the Sixers, the future was on the court today playing in the Summer League.
The Celtics have stocked up on young talent, so there were plenty of players of interest in today’s matchup, including the entire starting lineup of: #3 draft pick Jaylen Brown, surprise #16 pick Geurschon Yabusele, second-year player James Young, and returning rookies Terry Rozier and RJ Hunter.
Rounding out the roster on the bench was most of this year’s draft class and a few undrafted players looking to make a name for themselves. Jordan Mickey was unfortunately out with a shoulder injury, dealing a blow to the #FreeMickey movement, and Ante Zizic was also unavailable to play.
Meanwhile, Philly’s lineup featured their #1 draft pick Ben Simmons, which always adds an element of intrigue.
Both Boston and Philly have been rebuilding over the past few years, though they have taken completely different approaches to that process. The Celtics by virtue of owning the Nets picks have been able to stay competitive while also picking up some top-tier draft prospects. Now Boston is in a position where they have some star-level talent as well as a stable of young, up-and-coming players, and they should also be able to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Philly spent several seasons redefining the art of tanking, losing game after game in the race to the bottom of the standings and the top of the draft, adhering to Sam Hinkie’s infamous ‘Process.’ This season saw the end of Hinkie’s tenure as GM of the 76ers and the end of ‘the Process.’
With Philly now finally feeling they have the franchise-changing superstar they’ve waited so long for in Ben Simmons, all eyes are on the young Australian forward.
So both teams had a lot to prove today in the relatively inconsequential Summer League.
The Celtics managed to control the tip with Rozier gaining possession. After each side exchanged a few misses it was James Young, eager to prove his value, who started the scoring with a three-pointer assisted by Jaylen Brown.
In the first quarter, Brown showed strong defensive instincts and managed to battle his way to the line a whole bunch, where he knocked down most of his free throws (5 of 6 in the first quarter). The rest of the team managed to shoot extremely well from distance (7 of 13 in the first half), using their glut of guards to facilitate strong ball movement.
Boston’s young guns played with the type of grit and hustle you want to see from your young players, running the floor, kicking the ball out to the open man, and battling their way to the basket.
Simmons was obviously impressive, doing a little bit of everything on the floor, and showing just why he was the consensus #1 draft pick this year. He ran the floor, pulled down boards and exhibited a well-developed basketball IQ all-around. But in the fourth quarter, disaster struck for Philly as Ben Simmons was carried off the floor after a bump on the knee saw him clutching his thigh in reaction to a potential injury. Luckily for the 76ers it was later deemed to be nothing more than cramping in his calf.
However, for most of the game the #1 and #3 picks from this year’s draft went at each other back and forth. Not to be outdone by Simmons, Brown also impressed using his athletic frame to battle his way to the basket, drawing several fouls while also applying heavy defensive pressure. Although he struggled to sink a field goal early in the game, he also showed there’s nothing broken about his jumper.
Throughout the game, the three-balls were falling fast and furious for Boston, keeping them in the close contest as Philly relied more on working their way to the hoop. Hunter and Rozier showed evidence of their development, presenting themselves as strong go-to scoring options. Hunter showed some sharpshooting abilities as well as good offensive instincts, obviously benefiting from his playing time in Boston this year, though he did pick up several fouls early on.
Yet Terry Rozier, in particular, seems to be developing into a strong floor general, making a case for himself as a good option as a backup PG for Boston’s regular-season team.
Bentil was strong off the bench in limited minutes, knocking down several pull-up jumpers from midrange as well as scoring from long range, while also pulling down some boards. In the right environment he could grow into a strong stretch four that would be extremely valuable in Boston’s pace-and-space offense.
Boston’s forgotten former draft pick, Marcus Thornton, seems to have improved his game after spending time playing in Australia’s NBL, scurrying around the court providing pesky defense and delivering a few buckets as well.
The ‘dancing bear’, Guerschon Yabusele, looked a little lost to begin the game, but his massive frame helped him stay steady on defense. He also displayed some hops on offense, as he seemed to gain confidence as the game went on.
In the third quarter, Philly stepped up their defensive efforts, with Richaun Holmes blocking shot after shot, but it still wasn’t enough to hold off the Celtics’ youth movement. Boston went into the fourth leading 75-71.
For most of the fourth quarter the two teams stayed close to even, trading baskets and approaching the end of the game separated by only a few points.
In the end though, Boston was able to close out the game against Philly, winning 102-94 after Ben Simmons headed to the locker room due to leg cramps. Boston was able to win by playing a good team game and sharing the load on both sides of the court with five players in double figures.
The final stat lines for Brown and Simmons were relatively similar, with Brown getting most of his points at the stripe and recording 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots in just over 28 minutes.
Meanwhile, despite leaving the game early, Simmons managed 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists in just under 24 minutes. So who won the contest between the two draft picks? You tell me.