1. It wasn’t a perfect start to the 2022-23 Boston Celtics season, but it was plenty good enough. On a night where Boston celebrated the life and legacy of Bill Russell, the Celtics flashed the dominant play that they showed in the second half of last season.
Boston managed to keep control of the ball, with slightly better than 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. They pushed pace. The defense was a little inconsistent, but that’s to be expected, especially while working in several new faces. And Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were superstars and made plays whenever Boston needed them.
Overall, it was a good win to open a long campaign. And getting it over another top Eastern Conference team in the Philadelphia 76ers doesn’t hurt at all either.
2. Jayson Tatum might make an MVP leap this season. He drew nine free throw attempts. He flashed a couple of new moves. And he continued to show the world he’s a terrific defender too.
Tatum started the night by making a nice defensive play against the speedy Tyrese Maxey:
This offseason, Tatum worked on his floater. That’s a shot he can get to a lot, but hasn’t made very often in his first five years. So far, so good on the effort he’s put in:
The Celtics made a major effort to push the ball (more on that later!) throughout the game. If you don’t get matched up correctly, or you’re sloppy with your switches, Tatum is going to get you:
In certain circles (this space included), we’ve been begging for Tatum and Jaylen Brown to do more off-ball cutting. Boston has the passers to get them easy offense. This is a classic Princeton backdoor cut by Tatum here for the easy layup:
3. Jaylen Brown was every bit Jayson Tatum’s equal in carrying the Celtics to the win. If Boston can keep up the fast-paced offense, Brown is going to be a real weapon. He’s uniquely suited to take advantage of that style of play. But more on that to come!
Brown was plenty good in the halfcourt too. A handful of times, he showed a tightened-up dribble. That allowed Brown to attack slower players and get to his spots, like he did here on the floater:
A handful of times in the preseason Brown showed off a new hesitation dribble when going to his left. In those moments, he generally pulled up for a jumper. On this play, Brown uses the hesi, but takes his full space all the way to the rim:
Over the years the Celtics have had great success going at Joel Embiid in drop coverage. The main attackers against that coverage were guys like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward, because all possess a very good pullup jumper. That’s Brown’s role now:
4. If you’re going to beat the 76ers, you have to mix up your coverages against Joel Embiid. Al Horford does as good a job as anyone at covering Embiid 1-on-1, but Boston still threw in a lot of doubles. And the Celtics love to dig down when Embiid goes to his spins around the nail.
In this game, Boston also did a good job of attacking Embiid early before Philadelphia could even get into anything on offense. This was a nice transition pick by Marcus Smart before leaving it for Jayson Tatum:
In the second half, Jaylen Brown read that Embiid was trying to bring the ball up himself quite often. A little pressure from Noah Vonleh, a lazy pass from Embiid and the result is Brown attacking Embiid at the rim:
5. In the preseason the Celtics were a bad rebounding team. Without Robert Williams, it looks like a major weakness for this group. The guards and wings have to crash back on the glass to help out the bigs.
Three minutes into this game, Philadelphia had grabbed three offensive rebounds. It looked like it might be a long time on the boards for Boston.
But the Celtics cleaned things up in a big way. Over the final 45 minutes, the Sixers grabbed just one offensive rebound. Overall, Boston outrebounded Philadelphia for the night on both ends of the floor, led by Jayson Tatum’s 12 rebounds.
6. The Celtics might regret not extending Grant Williams. Williams is going to play a lot for this team, especially if he plays as he did in this game. He did his solid, switchable, versatile defensive stuff. And Williams picked up where he left off as a shooter. Williams also flashed a few new things too.
The finish here was a bit awkward, but it was really good to see Williams drive the closeout for a bucket in the paint:
Williams is also a better passer than his stats have shown. He regularly makes good reads. Putting Williams in more actions will result in more assists, as it does here on the short roll:
7. Malcolm Brogdon’s Boston debut couldn’t have gone much better. He’s everything the Celtics needed. Steady and reliable with the ball as a shooter or playmaker. Brogdon will help settle everyone down when things are going sideways.
This was a nice drive for Brogdon’s first Boston basket:
A few plays later, Brogdon hit a classic Brogdon shot: the baseline pullup:
Brogdon and Derrick White both have very, very high basketball IQs. They’ll catch you sleeping if you aren’t locked in. This was just the first time of many we can expect to see plays like this:
8. We’ve made mention a few times of Boston pushing pace. The Celtics were looking to run at every opportunity. In the end, Boston outscored Philadelphia 24-2 in fastbreak points, and the transition margin will likely be quite a bit higher as well.
Jaylen Brown beats everyone to the loose rebound here and he’s off. With Joel Embiid still in the backcourt, Brown heads directly for the rim in transition:
Once the rebound is secured, Brown turns on the jets. Smart takes the outlet and he’s immediately got his head up looking for runners and it’s Brown with the finish:
If Jayson Tatum is going to get on the glass the way he did in this game, then he’ll become a major threat to rip-and-run off the boards. This is one of those plays where Tatum knows he’s the best player on the floor, as he drives for the and-1:
9. We’re going to wrap with some love for the local guy, Noah Vonleh. Vonleh was called upon earlier than anyone could have expected, due to foul trouble, and his first stint was a bit of a mess. But Vonleh settled in and had a really positive impact on the game.
This is a terrific find by Malcolm Brogdon, and Vonleh does a wonderful job of creating his space for the finish:
If you’re a big and you want to play for Boston, you have to hold your own when you pick up a perimeter player. Vonleh does just that against Tyrese Maxey on this drive:
10. It’s only one victory, but it’s always nice to start the year off with a win. After all the Celtics went through to end the offseason, it was good to see them come out and beat another title contender.
Now, it’s hurry up and wait for the next one. Boston has the next two days off, before heading down south for a back-to-back set in Miami and Orlando. After allowing the 76ers to shoot 50%, it’s a lock that Joe Mazzulla is going to use that time in practice to work on cleaning up coverages.
But that’s nitpicky stuff for this space to be worried about. The season is off to a good start. That’s more than enough to celebrate for now.