The NBA season is back, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, and it kicked off with the perceived East Coast rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. There’s only one problem: this isn’t a rivalry at all. The 76ers, after an offseason elongated by pundits claiming young superstars Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz were ready to take the next step, have now beaten the Celtics only twice in their last ten attempts, and only once in their last six. In fact, these 76ers were the only team to drop a game at home to the Celtics in last summer’s NBA playoffs. Does that sound like much of a rivalry to you?
While simply beating the Sixers on national television (again) would’ve been enough for the Celtics to open their season, they went one step further. This wasn’t a simple beatdown, this was a statement. While the Celtics are hunters no more, it felt like nobody told them that. Certainly nobody told Joel Embiid, who absolutely hates playing against this team. He must. Everytime Embiid takes the court against the Celtics he might as well be wearing the gimp suit from Pulp Fiction, because he’s getting locked in a torture chamber for 48 minutes. Seriously. You could look at his counting numbers and say that he averages a double double (21.1 and 13.3) when he plays the Celtics in his last 9 games, and that’s fine, but that ignores the plays the Celtics hammered him into the sunken place and son’d him on national television. These plays, if you were wondering:
Yes, that’s Al Horford instructing Embiid to put his toys back where he found them and go to his room. That was Terry Rozier telling Embiid to “shut up little buster” with an opening night swat that will compete for the best of the 2018–19 season. That was Jaylen Brown who transcended the edges of the known universe and communicated telepathically with the Hindu Gods while hammering home a Not Quite A Dunk But Oh My God Is Embiid Still Breathing layup. That was Jayson Tatum who utilized the mind sherpa to channel Kyrie Irvings handles, putting Embiid on skates and drilling a step back dagger from the midrange. The Celtics absolutely own this guy. He might have to retire instead of face this team again. Embiid has officially set the World Record for most fathers acquired in a single NBA game.
I would be remiss if I only focused on how well the Celtics handled the Sixers center that The Big Lead dubbed the Eastern Conference’s fourth best player. Of course, I have to talk about the Celtics themselves, who managed to continue their domination of the One Win Against The Celtics In Their Last Sixers despite getting poor performances from returning superstars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Irving started the game a woeful 0–8 shooting in the first half, and would finish with only seven points on just 2–14 shooting. Hayward, who Brad Stevens has enforced on a minutes restriction to start the season, wasn’t much better, tallying 10 points on 4–12 from the field. But just like last season’s playoffs, the lack of the Celtics two superstars didn’t matter against the Sixers.
The real star of this game was the continued emergence of Jayson Tatum. Tatum spent the offseason working out with Kobe Bryant, and while he at times channeled the Mamba’s poor shot selection, he also displayed remarkably efficient inside scoring, shooting 67% from inside the three point line. Tatum was electric on offense, particularly when isolated and left to create his shot, and showed himself to be a willing and able defender, while committing only one turnover. Tatum is a superstar in the making. He’s one of the most versatile players in the Celtics insanely deep arsenal, with the ability to play almost every position. He has the skillset of a shot creating shooting guard in a body that can check power forwards. Simple and plain, this kid is special.
Perhaps most inspiring was the play of Rozier, who gathered 11 points on 50% from the field. Rozier was an absolute pit bull and showed massive bursts of energy (see: that unholy swat on the 11-inch taller Embiid) while also displaying patient shot selection. It’s sad to think that Rozier may not last the season in Boston, and will almost certainly be lost to free agency next summer, but it’s been incredibly fun to watch his immense growth under the tutelage of Kyrie. Rozier also collected a team-leading +22 in the plus/minus, and, like Tatum (and really all of the Celtics), displayed great ball control committing only one turnover.
And then there is our King. Our Black Panther. The explorer. We can’t know every detail of Jaylen Brown’s travels across the world this past offseason, but we do know by his Instagram that Jaylen Brown is the coolest person on the planet Earth. Exhibit A:
Jaylen Brown visited the Monkey Forest in Bali, and while it’s not entirely clear what he may have learned there, it’s entirely reasonable to believe he met with the spirits of the Earth, the Galaxy, and the Universe, and was taught the secrets time and space. He certainly displayed a transcendent knowledge of the meaning of life, the laws of physics, and the mysteries of spacetime while dominating the basketball court last night. Maybe I’m overreacting to the aforementioned physically impossible and gravity defying Jaylen Brown Disagrees With Your Capitalistic Idea Of A Bank Layup, but maybe that’s okay.
One thing is absolutely certain. The Boston Celtics are back. Banner 18 is en route. These Celtics don’t care about the Warriors, they only care about basketball, and being better at it than you. Just ask the 76ers. Now that they took care of their “rivals” in the East, let’s see what the actual rivals in the East can do. The Celtics will take on Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday night. I can’t wait.