Jayson Tatum had seen enough of James Harden controlling the first half, so he came out in the third quarter and put on a show. Tatum’s 35 points, 12 rebounds and four assists helped drive the Boston Celtics to a 126-117 opening night victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
After last season’s shortcomings from two-point range in the Finals, Tatum made it clear he has improved his shot-making arsenal around the basket. Tatum shot 11-for-13 on two-point shots and proved why he has taken the mantle as the game’s premier two-way wing.
Whether Tatum was guarded by P.J. Tucker, Tobias Harris or any other Sixers wing, he used his strength and size to shoot over defenders and maneuver his way to the basket.
Philadelphia controlled the first quarter, shooting 14 free throws and limiting the Celtics transition opportunities. Boston took that punch and others later in the game, answering with poise. Philadelphia shot 14 free throws the rest of the game, and the Celtics dominated in transition, outscoring Philadelphia 24-2 in fast break points.
Grant Williams said “We were positive, we were just emphasizing discipline, emphasizing playing the right way, emphasizing getting stops.” Grant did not miss a field goal attempt, nailing three of Boston’s 12 triples.
Jaylen Brown continued his ascent alongside Tatum by pouring in 35 points of his own on 14-for-24 shooting after a 3-for-9 start, giving the Celtics their knockout punch late in the fourth. The bench unit showed promise, with Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams each posting double figure scoring. Noah Vonleh and Al Horford teamed up to make life difficult for Joel Embiid, navigating around early foul trouble for Horford.
After the game, Jaylen Brown lauded Coach Mazzulla “Joe is tough as nails. Even in the midst of everything, all the turmoil, you look into his eyes. You can tell he was ready.”
Joe Mazzulla won a key fourth quarter challenge to prevent Horford from picking up his fifth personal. On a night when three Celtics’ picked up technicals or a flagrant, Mazzulla showed the ability to make the necessary rotation adjustments.
Boston showed the championship mettle to grow throughout the game, even after James Harden lit up the scoreboard in the first half, finishing with 35 of his own. The team surged out of the locker room in the third quarter and committed to switching ball screens around Harden to force his hand, winning the frame 35-25 and staving off a late Tyrese Maxey run render the final minutes of the game inconsequential. The defense that lifted the Celtics to the finals last year flexed its muscle during a defining 8-0 run when Boston turned three Sixers turnovers into quick points on the other end.
Boston never trailed again, growing the lead to as many as 16.
The Celtics open their road schedule Friday evening in Miami before a back-to-back on Saturday against Orlando.