The Sixers and Celtics are expected to compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference this season and the opener had a May feel. Embiid was bloodied and hit with a flagrant. They roughed up each other, with more than 60 fouls whistled. They each showed off their prized free agent acquisitions. But it was the Sixers that dominated in the fourth quarter.
Philly’s superstars can only do so much, and the reserves were there when they needed them.
Furkan Korkmaz and Tobias Harris buried consecutive 3-pointers — after the Sixers had missed 21 of 24 through three quarters — to stretch the lead to 10. Even without a jumper, Simmons was smooth and sensational as he attacked the hoop for easy baskets. He used a nifty spin move in the paint to hit Kyle O’Quinn for a basket that made it 90-74. The packed house went wild as the backups, a weak spot in the postseason, put the Sixers on the decisive run.
Gordon Hayward led the Celtics with 25 points. Jayson Tatum had 21.
Kemba Walker scored 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting in his Boston debut, and Al Horford had 16 in his first game with the 76ers.
Horford spent the last three seasons with the Celtics and was one of the few defenders that gave Embiid fits. Horford signed a four-year deal to come to Philly and quickly became a popular teammate. Walker was signed to a four-year, $141 million deal, the most Boston could offer, but $80 million less than the Charlotte Hornets could have paid him over five seasons.
About the only sign of a rough patch came when Embiid took a hard elbow from Jaylen Brown early in the third. Embiid was slightly bloodied and seemed to wiggle his teeth. He also pressed a towel to this face after the hit.
Brown was whistled for his fifth foul, and Embiid sat out for a couple of minutes. He hardly seemed bothered by the knock the rest of the game — he slid across the court as he tried to save the ball from going out of bounds, drawing a loud “Let’s go Sixers!” chant.
Celtics: Boston twice missed consecutive free throws in the second half, giving delirious 76ers fans a free dessert and fries at a food fast chain.
76ers: Allen Iverson was in the house wearing a No. 23 Trey Burke jersey. … Rapper Biz Markie was at the game. … Horford rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell. … Harris addressed the crowd before the game and said the 76ers have just one goal this season. “With that being said, let’s get to work,” he said.
Embiid said at the start of training camp that he lost 20 pounds over the offseason and aimed for at least five more before opening night. Coach Brett Brown said he didn’t know if the two-time All-Star center had reached his weight goal. Brown said Embiid’s health is the “best he’s ever been,” but there’s work ahead.
“Is he an A-plus right now,” Brown asked. “No, he is not. But he is trending in the way that we want. And nobody asked him to be that on opening night.”
The 25-year-old Embiid has never played in more than 64 games a season and has vowed to top that total in 2019-2020. The Sixers care more about having their franchise player healthy for the postseason than reaching some arbitrary number.
“I feel when I look at him, I think he looks healthy,” Brown said. “He looks like he’s ready to have a great season.”
Celtics: Play Saturday at New York.
76ers: Play Saturday at Detroit.