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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Boston Dominates Philadelphia 105-87 as the 2018-19 NBA Season Begins

We are supposedly witnessing the revival of one of the NBA's great, historic rivalries--Boston versus Philadelphia--but objectively speaking it must be said that these teams are not in the same class. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 4-1 in last season's playoffs and they continued that domination with a 105-87 win on opening night. Boston did not trail for the final 43 minutes, demonstrating advantages in team defense, depth and coaching. It is hard to see any advantages that Philadelphia enjoys in this matchup. Perhaps it could be argued that Ben Simmons (19 points, game-high 15 rebounds, eight assists) is the most individually talented player on either team but--even if that is true--that does not have much effect on the outcome when these teams play.

Keep in mind that Boston pushed aside Philadelphia last postseason despite being without the services of two injured All-Stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Irving and Hayward both played on opening night and the fact that neither one performed exceptionally well during Boston's rout only underscores the reality that while Boston will likely be markedly better by the end of the season it would seem that Philadelphia's growth potential as currently constructed is more limited. Hayward, playing under the constraints of a minutes restriction--though, due to the team's depth, none of Boston's players figure to log heavy minutes this season--finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals. Irving struggled with his shot, scoring just seven points on 2-14 field goal shooting, but he led Boston with seven assists.

Jayson Tatum was Boston's star of this game, with a game-high tying 23 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes. Only one Celtic played 30 minutes (Al Horford) but nine Celtics logged at least 19 minutes. Marcus Morris contributed 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes.Thirteen different Boston players saw action (including three who just played the final minute) and every single one of them had a positive plus/minus number. Reserve Terry Rozier, who scored 11 points in 27 minutes, had a game-best +22 plus/minus number. Plus/minus is a "noisy" statistic in small sample sizes but the point here is that Boston has no weak links; Coach Brad Stevens can go to the far end of his bench and still summon quality players into action.

Al Horford's box score numbers do not always look impressive and last night was no exception (nine points, four rebounds, two assists--though he did have a game-high five blocked shots) but he is a major force at both ends of the court, anchoring the defense in the paint while facilitating offensive flow with his smart screens, deft passing and timely shots.

Joel Embiid led Philadelphia with 23 points but he shot just 9-21 from the field. He had 10 rebounds but also a game-high five turnovers. He is a talented player but Boston is able to guard him one on one without too much difficulty; Embiid did not post huge individual numbers and he did not attract enough defensive attention to open up opportunities for his teammates.

Simmons has everything in his tool kit but a reliable outside shot, as has been well-documented. He is often compared to Magic Johnson but the major difference is that Magic won a college championship and then won Finals MVP in his rookie season while leading the L.A. Lakers to the NBA title, while Simmons has yet to show in college or the NBA that he can have a remotely similar impact on winning. I am not saying that he is not capable of having such an impact or that he never will have such an impact but the fact is that he has yet to do so. Many of the all-time greats led teams to titles within their first three seasons in pro basketball, including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Tim Duncan. Being young did not hold those players back and they did not necessarily all arrive to ready-made championship teams: Abdul-Jabbar's Milwaukee Bucks were a recently formed expansion team, Erving's New York Nets had the youngest starting lineup in pro basketball and Bird's Celtics went 29-53 the season before he arrived.

One should not read too much into the first game of an 82 game regular season, but when one widens the perspective to include last season plus a skill set evaluation of each roster's players it remains to be proven that this is a rivalry in any sense other than name recognition and nostalgia.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM