Kicking off their regular season opener, the Boston Celtics hosted the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics are coming into the season with two former All-Stars back at full strength in point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Gordon Hayward, adding to an already stacked Boston roster. Following the step up in play from forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, guards Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier, and leadership from veteran center Al Horford all from last season, head coach Brad Stevens has all the tools necessary for this team to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals once again.
In their home opener to kick off the season, the Celtics had a hard fought battle against the 76ers, a team they had thwarted during the playoffs of last season. 76ers center Joel Embiid led his team on the night, finishing the game with 23 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. Point guard Ben Simmons also performed admirably, finishing the game with 14 points, eight assists, 15 rebounds and four steals. The two have become quite the dynamic duo for the 76ers, but their superb efforts weren’t enough to overcome the Celtics depth.
Irving had a pedestrian performance for the 29 minutes he played on the night, going one for eight from beyond the arc. In an attempt to make up for his poor shooting, Irving had seven assists, along with playing strong defense. The Celtics as a whole limited the 76ers’ offense, keeping them under 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc as a team. The overall effort from Boston led to a 105-87 victory over Philadelphia.
In their second game, the Celtics travelled north of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 19, a potential preview for the Eastern Conference Finals at the end of this season. Shooting guard Kawhi Leonard, a trade acquisition by the Raptors from the San Antonio Spurs in the offseason, shows Raptors fans what they truly received in exchange for former Raptors shooting Demar Derozan. Leonard exploded on the night, putting up 31 points and snagging 10 rebounds. While Leonard led the Raptors in points, his teammates, forward Danny Green and point guard Kyle Lowry, made the difference in crunch time for the Raptors. Boston drastically improved their accuracy from beyond the three point line from their previous outing, finishing with 14 successful three pointers on 26 attempts.
While neither team was able to run away with the game throughout the first three quarters of action, with under three minutes to play, the Raptors found their spark, taking the box score from 101-99 to 113-101 after going on a 12-2 point run. Despite not putting up their best performance from beyond the arc as a team with 13 three pointers made on 35 attempts, the Raptors clutched up with Green and Lowry each draining their own three pointers one after the other. With a little over a minute remaining, Tatum sprinted down the court on a fast break, only to have his layup swatted away by Green, who pursued Tatum the whole way. The Raptors lockdown defense to finish out the game, paired with improved three point shooting, allowed them to edge out Boston and send them home with a 1-1 record to begin the season.
Heading into their final contest of the first week of the regular season, the Celtics travelled to New York to take on the Knicks, where they had a tough-fought matchup that was a game down to the wire. Irving, after being all but absent for the Celtics through the first two games of the season, honed in his clutch abilities, putting the offense on his shoulders with the game tied at 89-89 with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. Irving dribbled hard into the paint, taking on Knicks’ center Enes Kanter and drawing a foul, resulting in two shots at the free throw line which he drained with ease. After the Knicks were unable to convert their next offensive series, Irving showed off his renowned athleticism, pivoting around a defender in the paint and dishing a wrap around pass to Horford for the lay up.
With Boston tightening down its defense, reminiscent of that of the Raptors from their previous game, the Knicks were unable to score during Irving’s domination, and the Celtics found themselves up 96-89 with just over a minute left to play. Not to allow Irving to bear all of the weight, Tatum came out with six points in the final minute of the game, stopping a late 12-point rally by the Knicks offense, and ending the game with a final score of 103-101.
The Celtics, now sitting at 2-1, have games this coming week against the Orlando Magic on Oct. 22, Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 25 and the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 27. The skill and talent for the boys from Boston is definitely present, however their chemistry and ability to fire on all cylinders as a collective unit will be put to the test throughout the season.