BOSTON — Last year at this time, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was nervously awaiting his regular-season debut against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This year, James is in the Western Conference, and the Celtics have a year of experience (including a deep playoff run) under their belts as they prep for the Philadelphia 76ers in their opener on Tuesday.
Tatum isn’t nervous any more.
“It’s like night and day,” Tatum said. “Last year, we were playing the Cavs, playing LeBron. This year, we’re not playing LeBron. So I’m not as nervous.”
The Sixers present their own issues. The Celtics rolled over the 76ers in five games during the playoffs, but Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will both have progressed over the summer, and Markelle Fultz is back on the court.
Brad Stevens said he enjoys watching Philadelphia.
“I mean we played them 11 times last year,” Stevens said. “You watch them all summer. I think they’re one of the most creative teams on offense and defense in the league. I greatly appreciate watching them as a basketball fan, let alone having a responsibility to prepare for them. So, yes, I enjoy watching them play. I think Brett does a great job and obviously they’re phenomenal.”
Tatum, who was crucial exploiting mismatches against the Sixers, worked out with Embiid and trainer Drew Hanlen over the summer. He said he expects some bad blood between the two teams.
“Definitely some animosity,” Tatum said. “We won, so they are probably a little more fired up or angry than we are, but we’re excited to play. We had a lot of good matchups with them last year, a lot of great battles, especially in the playoffs. We’re excited, they’re excited.”
The trash talk between the two teams is escalating, which Terry Rozier says is a good thing. After he called the 76ers “lunch meat” on the Mickstape podcast over the summer, Rozier said he enjoys Joel Embiid’s relentless chatter.
“It’s gonna be two teams getting after it, whether it’s biting, scratching, no matter what you have to do to win, that’s what it’s gonna be,” Rozier said. “I think we’re looking forward to it. I know I am. I like the stuff that Embiid talks. It’s good for basketball, it’ll get you hyped up, so you know, if they like it, we love it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We ready for it.”
Tatum didn’t quite lean into the trash talk, but he did say he frequently reminded Embiid of the playoff results while working with him this summer.
“I just kept reminding him that we almost swept them,” Tatum said. “We should have swept them, but we let them win one game. We were joking around and getting better.”
Asked about the rivalry, which he missed during the playoffs, Kyrie Irving smiled.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Irving said. “All I know is destroy. That’s all I know. So once we go out there, that’s the only thing.”