The Celtics' depth will make you green with envy

Adrian Dy on Oct 17, 2018 02:57 PM
The Celtics' depth will make you green with envy
Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum (0) comes up short as Boston Celtics' Al Horford (42) and Philadelphia 76ers' Robert Covington (33) battle for the rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Not many teams can pull off such a feat.

Kyrie Irving returns, but shoots just 2-of-14 from the field.

Gordon Hayward finally makes it back onto the court, only to convert just 4-of-12 shots.

Jaylen Brown, who led the team in scoring last season with Irving and Hayward sidelined, hit a mere 5-of-13 attempts.

And still, the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers 105-87 in both teams' 2018-19 season opener.

How'd they do that? Depth, depth, depth. Brad Stevens' top three weapons may have been misfiring, but he's got plenty more where that came from.

In this game it was sophomore Jayson Tatum who led the way, scattering a team-best 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, via an array of Kobe Bryant-inspired moves.

It wasn't just him too.

Marcus Morris, now coming off the bench, added a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Terry Rozier, who was a revelation when Irving went down last season, added 11 markers on a 50 percent shooting clip. His reserve backcourt partner, Marcus Smart, got his usual array of floor burns, diving for the loose ball, but all of his made field goals came from beyond the arc, comprising the bulk of his seven points.

Then on the defensive end, Al Horford manned the middle and finished with five shot blocks, to go with his nine points.

So when Hayward, Irving, and Brown combine to shoot 11-of-39 from the field for 29 points, you can survive. You can even thrive.

"Our strength has to be in our depth," said head coach Brad Stevens after the game. "And when one guy doesn't have it going, the rest of the team has to pick them up. And everybody has to play with great effort, because the guy behind him is chomping at the bit to get in."

The Celtics' recipe for victory was in sharp contrast to what was going on with the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid got his, scoring 23 on 21 shots to go with 10 boards and two blocks, while Ben Simmons finished just shy of a triple-double, notching 19 markers, 15 rebounds, eight dimes, and four swipes. Their next top scorer? JJ Redick with 16 on 17 shots.

Noticeably missing however, were their role players, guys they had expected to take several steps forward.

Dario Saric was hampered by foul trouble, and played just 22:55 minutes before finishing with six points. Robert Covington was extremely inconsistent, and had eight. Markelle Fultz still doesn't look like the guy they drafted with the number one overall pick last season - just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, with no three-pointers attempted.

It didn't help that their offseason additions gave them nothing either. Forwards Wilson Chandler (hamstring) and Mike Muscala (ankle) both weren't active, due to injury. The 16th overall pick of this year's draft, Zhaire Smith, is still recovering from a Jones fracture in his foot, while Landry Shamet, pick #26, missed all four of his attempts from the field (but did hit a free throw).

Throughout this offseason, the Celtics and the 76ers were built up as rivals for the Eastern Conference crown, now that LeBron James had gone West. But it's clear that the Celtics have the upper hand now, not only because of the results of this game, but from past experience. They did, after all, take down Philly in five games to advances to the Eastern Conference Finals WITHOUT Hayward and Irving. That's a fact that the outspoken Embiid himself admitted after the game.

(For the record, since the 2016-17 NBA season, the Celtics are 11-5 versus the 76ers, including the postseason)

Coming into this season, there were concerns that the Celtics might be TOO loaded. The stereotypical comments about there being only one ball were bandied about. And perhaps under a lesser coach, or in different circumstances, that might be a concern, but it isn't right now in Beantown.

"I thought that again, our depth was a big factor in the game. Whenever things started to go awry, and we put new fresh guys in, they all made plays," noted Stevens.

The counter-cliche to the "only one ball" complaint is that too much depth is "a good problem to have." And in the NBA, perhaps that line of thinking is more correct. The Celtics know this - injuries happen, players go through cold spells, and sometimes you just need someone to come off the bench and give you a little boost on the court. With only the Toronto Raptors probably coming close to the effectiveness of their lineup, from first five to 12th man, you can see why the Celtics are the toast of the East.

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