One of the most anticipated seasons in the 76ers’ recent history began with a grind-it-out victory.
The Sixers defeated the Boston Celtics, 107-93, in Wednesday night’s season opener for both squads at the Wells Fargo Center.
This marked their first season-opening victory since defeating the two-time defending NBA champions Miami Heat, 114-110, at the start of the 2013-14 season. It was also their second straight series win over the archrival Celtics. The Sixers had lost 21 of the previous 24 meetings before the consecutive wins.
But this was far from an easy victory.
The Sixers made just 7 of 29 three-pointers for 24.1 percent. The game also resembled an MMA card with 63 total fouls. The Sixers were called for 34 fouls, while the Celtics had 29. Philly also turned the ball over 15 times.
All five Sixers starters scored in double digits.
Ben Simmons finished with 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting to go with 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and 4 turnovers.
The All-Star point guard didn’t attempt a shot outside of the paint. But Simmons didn’t need to, as he attacked the rim at will.
Tobias Harris had 15 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers. Embiid added 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Josh Richardson had 17 points, 2 blocks, and a steal, and Al Horford added 16 points against his former team.
Early on, the Sixers looked like a team with no offensive identity. A lot of that had to do with incorporating two new players -- Horford and Richardson -- in the starting lineup. And they only had two preseason games -- against Guangzhou and Orlando Magic -- where they were all on the court together.
“I think it was just the first game,” Simmons said. “Jitters. Everybody is a little bit nervous. Everybody is excited to play, be out there. It’s a lot different when the lights come on, and everybody is watching."
The sellout crowd of 20,422 provided a loud, playoff-type atmosphere.
“But I’m happy with what the team did tonight,” said Simmons, whose squad held the Celtics to 36.7 percent shooting. "I think everybody defensive was solid. I think everybody stayed together, and everyone was playing physical ball down low.
Boston All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who was guarded mostly by Richardson, finished with 12 points on 4-for-18 shooting. The Celtics also hurt themselves from the foul line, going 20 of 34 (58.8 percent).
But early on, the Sixers were the ones struggling offensively, as Boston double- and triple-teamed Embiid. The star center did a nice job of passing out of the double. The Sixers just missed shots. They missed all seven of their first-quarter three-pointers and shot 2-for-14 from deep in the first half.
However, the Sixers battled back from an eight-point deficit to take a 49-48 advantage into the half.
Philly had a scare early in the third quarter when Jaylen Brown slammed into Embiid while attempting a layup. The big man, who was defending on the play, fell to the court. He remained there for a couple of minutes and was checked out by the team’s doctor and trainer.
However, the standout with an injury history avoided major injury on this play. Embiid went to the locker room to be examined and was fine except for suffering a lip laceration. Due to swelling to his lip, he was unavailable to speak following the game.
The Sixers opened the third quarter on a 13-2 run to take a commanding 62-50 lead on Harris’ jumper with 8:11 left in the quarter.
However, the Celtics pulled within 68-65 on a Hayward jumper with 2:45 left in the quarter. But Embiid scored the Sixers’ next five points before Richardson added a basket to give them a nine-point cushion (77-68) after three quarters.