If Wednesday night is what the Celtics bench is going to look like all season, Brad Stevens is going to have a very good year.
The Celtics started off slowly to the lowly 76ers, trailing by as many as nine, 26-17, in the first quarter. Boston made just six of its first 21 shots and could find no rhythm.
The young 76ers had rookie Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel running the court, and scoring. And the Celtics looked flat.
Then the bench started to make the impact that it was built all offseason to make. Slowly but surely, Jared Sullinger, Isaiah Thomas and Amir Johnson made their impact, some faster than others. Thomas missed his first four shots before finding his range, on his way to a game-high 27-point night. Johnson added 15 and Sullinger chipped in with 12 as the vision of Danny Ainge was clear for everyone to see.
When it was all said and done, the Celtics bench outscored Philly reserves, 67-15, in walking away with a 112-95 win. That’s exactly what Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens had in mind when they built the deepest roster in the NBA in the offseason.
“Our bench has to be a great source of energy and scoring and everything else for us,” Stevens said. “And I thought [the Sixers] came out of the gates great. Okafor was really hard for us to guard early ‘ and then Noel, I just thought they had a great impact on the game on both ends. So, we found ourselves in a hole which probably isn’t all bad in your first game, to see how you respond, and we responded. Any time we cut it close I thought we responded. I thought we missed some things that we can clean up, but at the same time I thought we did a lot of good things.”
Down 26-17, the Celtics outscored the Sixers, 21-2, over the next eight minutes. Thomas and Sullinger each had six points in the run.
The bench was also the reason the Celtics were able to hold off the Sixers each time they made a run. Three times the Sixers got as close as five points and each time the Celtics answered, including a 7-0 spurt at the end of the third, when Thomas hit a three right before the buzzer.
“The end of the quarters are important to us,” Stevens said. “We want to finish well, we want to do well in those situations. And those were big for us tonight. But I thought just as big was they’d cut it to five and we’d go on a 7-0 run. They’d cut it to, I believe it was three one time, we go on a 6-0 run. So those are good responses in those moments.”
Even with Kelly Olynyk suspended for the night as punishment for his foul on Kevin Love in Game 4 of the playoff series with Cleveland last spring, Stevens had answers all night off the bench. In addition to Thomas, Johnson and Sullinger, Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko all saw at least 15 minutes of playing time, allowing Stevens to mix and match at will, including going with a small three-guard lineup for extended stretches.
“We probably wouldn’t have gone small quite as much if Kelly would’ve played, but I just felt like we’ve been playing Jonas a lot at the three ‘ these guys are so active on the ball handlers that I felt like if he were at the four he’d probably be a little bit more effective and he’d be able to bring all that energy in the doubles,” Stevens explained. “That’s where we decided we were going to double from, if we were going to double heading into this game. And he’s the one that you’re thinking about when that happens.”
The test of the Celtics bench gets much stiffer in the next two games, as the Celtics take on the Raptors and Spurs on Friday and Sunday at TD Garden.
Isaiah Thomas is very happy that his coach doesn’t get discouraged by a little cold streak.
The instant offense offense off the Celtics bench missed his first four shots in the first quarter Wednesday night as the Celtics struggled out of the gate.
Thomas made three of his next five shots and that was a sign of things to come as the Celtics outscored the Sixers, 30-14, in the second quarter, grabbing control of the game, 51-40, at the halftime break.
Smart his 5-of-8 shots in the third quarter, including a three at the buzzer as the Celtics took a 79-67 lead into the final quarter.
“I mean that’s the biggest thing,” Brad Stevens said. “We’ve talked quite a bit about that: play with speed, play aggressive, play with spirit, let the chips fall where they may with him. We know a hot streak is coming.”
Thomas scored 13 of his game-high 27 points in the third quarter as the Celtics cruised to a 112-95 win in the season opener at TD Garden.
“That’s my job,” Thomas said of keeping the shots coming. “I’m not going to be shy when I’ve got a job to do out there. Coach has confidence in me. My teammates have confidence in me, and they tell me to continue being aggressive ‘ so I’m going to continue to do that.”
Thomas’ 27 points came in 29 minutes of action. The Detroit Pistons of the mid and late-80s had Vinnie Johnson – “The Microwave.” The Celtics have Isaiah Thomas.
“I work on it ‘ each and every day,” Thomas said. “I know that some point in time, it’s going to fall. I have that confidence in my game, and I work on my craft, so I think the harder you work, and when it doesn’t happen in games, you go to what you know. When I get into the spots that I like to go to in my workouts, and feeding off my teammates, no matter if I’m having a good game or not, you have to just make the right play out there. If the right play is to shoot, and I’m not making them, I have to continue to shoot that shot.”
Mikey talks with former Celtics star Dana Barros about his career in the NBA, and
[0:00:49] ... throw shooting contest but it wasn't with basketball's it was on my TVshow with rolls of toilet paper. You remember that all yeah you don't live on air jet lag on the year with a MichaelJordan junior Jimmer and and I'd be too by one and I you said that's no good bed. And I have you come back a few weeks later you got nine out of ten kick mass. Yeah the comeback bid in due course. Old world history you know access to do and I was the one spread the word different but there. So you know that this here we go okay the torrid fifteen to a sixty c.s are gonna start with this. I was very very encouraged by the way this Celticbasketball team. Under Bret Stephens started to played down the stretch data really they were I think 24 and twelve in their last ... [0:02:00] ... Yet they they did add a colleague had they added Johnson and DavidLee who did not Dave DavidLee really was in a kind of a bad situation last year reading get very many minutes based on all the personnel he ... [0:08:52] ... the big guy perspective though the smaller of the two. You know DavidLee's 69 but he plays a lot bigger than that is you know how housing improvement going to be underneath this team Dana. ...
It’s unclear whether the Philadelphia 76ers are an NBA team, but the win counts just the same.
With a 112-95 win over the ever-tanking Sixers on opening night, your Boston Celtics are 1-0, undefeated, atop the division standings and tied for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. One down, 81 to go. Brad Stevens is probably already watching Toronto Raptors tape right now.
Isaiah Thomas led the way with 27 points (10-19 FG) and seven assists. He was joined in double figures by Amir Johnson (15 points, 7 rebounds), Jae Crowder (14 points, 6 rebounds), Marcus Smart (13 points, 5 assists) and Jared Sullinger (12 points, 7 rebounds). Production abound.
For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.
It wasn’t a great shooting night for the Sixth Man of the Year favorite, and he still had 23 points through three quarters. Thomas missed his first five 3-point attempts, but made up for it by getting to the line a ton (6-7 FT) and knocking down a triple just before the third-quarter buzzer that pushed the C’s lead to 79-67. He added seven assists against three turnovers and generally destroyed the 76ers on the pick-and-roll, mostly with Johnson working as his partner.
DUD OF THE NIGHT: Tyler Zeller.
This could just as easily be David Lee, but Zeller was yanked 5:13 into the ballgame after the Sixers scored 10 of their first 15 points in the paint. He returned briefly in the second quarter and was removed again shortly after Philadelphia point guard Isaiah Canaan scored on another layup. Zeller was removed for the starting lineup at halftime in favor of Sullinger, and he sat the entire time the Celtics build their lead as large as 15 points.
VINE OF THE NIGHT:
Out of a timeout with 2.9 seconds left in the half, the Celtics ran a ton of misdirection in the paint, only to have Smart inbound the ball, hop to the 3-point line and get the ball back. It was the simplest of play calls that led to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and a 51-40 halftime lead for the C’s.
WHINE OF THE NIGHT: Let’s hope this is the last time I write this sentence: More Johnson, please.
Okafor was killing the Celtics with eight early points on four shots within five feet of the basket, so Brad Stevens answered with Jared Sullinger midway through the first quarter? I was under the impression interior defense was precisely why Amir Johnson was signed this past summer. On the ensuing possession, Okafor scored on Sullinger within five feet of the basket, giving the 76ers a 17-11 lead.
Johnson finally checked in with 2:31 remaining in the opening quarter and the C’s trailing by nine. He recorded a block on his first possession. Over the next 8:14, the Celtics outscored Philadelphia 18-2 and grabbed a 35-28 lead. You do the math.
STAT OF THE NIGHT: 26 fast-break points.
Despite their youth last season, the Celtics ranked in the middle of the pack with 13.6 fast-break points per game — a slight uptick from Stevens’ first season. Granted, they were facing the 76ers, but the C’s scored 34 points off 24 turnovers and thrived in transition. Pace and space is all the rage, and they had the first part down in the opener.
@ OF THE NIGHT:
Anybody who missed the 76ers’ 1Q vs. Celtics may have just missed the high point of their season.
The two inactives for the C’s: R.J. Hunter (illness) and James Young, whose benching officially establishes him as the last guy on the 15-man roster. Rookie second-round pick Jordan Mickey earned the spot final spot over him. And if Young can’t crack the depth chart when Hunter is ill, then he likely won’t be seeing time in Boston soon, since they play the same position.
Meanwhile, the 76ers will start Boston area native Nerlens Noel and lottery pick Jahlil Okafor along with three guys you may have never heard of — Hollis Thompson, Jakarr Sampson and Isaiah Canaan. The league’s tanking experiment gone wrong for the past several seasons, Philadelphia offers a prime opportunity for the Celtics to start the season off with a win in front of their home crowd.