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Celtics 102, Sixers 92: This is clearly a work in progress

Rob Bradford
October 20, 2017 - 10:16 pm

Here are two things you probably didn't think you would see when turning your attention to the Celtics' game in Philadelphia Friday night: Director M. Night Shyamalan and actor Samuel L. Jackson devouring french fries next to the Boston bench, and someone by the name of "Bird" playing basketball in green for 14 minutes.

It was that kind of unpredictable evening. And there probably will be more of them in the coming weeks.

After the Celtics' 102-92 win over the upstart Sixers, Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston his team was "on edge" heading into the tilt without a win and no Marcus Smart (ankles). And you think that anxiety went away when Brad Stevens sent out a group including of Daniel Theis, Jabari Bird, Abel Nader and Shane Larkin, and no Kyrie Irving? Not until it became clear that Stevens' button-pushing was spot-on again. (For a complete recap, click here.)

"We had a lot of guys step up ... We needed everybody," Stevens told reporters. "This is a great win." The Celtics coach then added, "This was a really, really hard win. This is a good one to build off of."

The Celtics' mixing and matching would ultimately lead to what is supposed to be this team's fail-safe, Irving taking over at the end. It was the Celtics' go-to guy that sealed the deal in the fourth quarter, finishing with a game-high 20 points.

But, whistle-laden four quarters (complete with a flurry of missed free throws), this one should be identified as the ultimate test track for this Celtics team. Stevens had a hunch Bird, a rookie and former teammate of Jaylen Brown at the University of California, was among the best on the team at guarding the perimeter. So, with J.J. Reddick torching the C's for much of the night, the guard got some run. And he did OK, finishing with a plus-11.

There were others who got their first chance at leaving some sort of an impression. 

Guerschon Yabusele came in to bang with Joel Embiid (who looked awkard for much of the night, going 4-for-16 from the floor), and finished at a plus-4 in his four minutes. Twenty-five-year-old rookie Daniel Theis hauled in three rebounds while blocking a shot in 11 minutes. And Larkin looked like a downright gift, helping finish things off with a 4-for-5 performance from the floor (2-for-3 from beyond the arc), with a plus-16 in 20 minutes.

Each showed the potential to actually help going forward, which might have been somewhat of a mystery prior to the trip to Philly.

But perhaps the player who is changing the conversation the most through three games is Rozier.

Not only did the guard get a good chunk of the minutes left behind by Smart, but he has actually emerged as a legitimate offensive option. Few would have been counting on that pre-Gordon Hayward injury. Rozier followed up a nine-point night in Cleveland, and 15 points in the home opener with 14 this time around. His continued aggressiveness made it possible to survive an off shooting night from one of the players who will undoubtedly be relied on for buckets, Jaylen Brown, who went just 4-for-13 from the field while missing all three of his free throws.

And then there was THE rookie.

What the Celtics discovered with Jayson Tatum is that he is what they thought he was. Thirty-three minutes. Fourteen points. Seven rebounds. And an individual win over the player picked two spots in front of him, Markelle Fultz, who wasn't much of a factor in his 17 minutes, netting just six points on 2-for-9 shooting.

There was no better example of this team being a work in progress. But, this time around, at least there was progress. And, for now, that's exactly what Stevens and Co. will have to settle for.

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