Joel Embiid has a way of inspiring rivalries.
The Philadelphia 76ers star spent most of last season pouring gas on any amount of animosity the Sixers had with an opposing team, and no opponent received more gas than the Boston Celtics, who played four contentious regular-season games against Philadelphia before eliminating the Sixers in five contentious postseason games.
The Celtics haven’t forgotten any of it, of course.
“We won, so they are probably a little more fired up or angry than we are, but we’re excited to play,” Jayson Tatum, who worked out with Embiid over the summer said on Saturday. “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. …
I just kept reminding (Embiid) that we almost swept them. We should have swept them, but we let them win one game. We were joking around and getting better.”
The Sixers, presumably, haven’t either. The Celtics had an entire summer to stew about their Game 7 failures against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Sixers have had an entire summer to stew about the slander they endured for losing to the short-handed Celtics in five games. Boston didn’t roll the Sixers, per se — all five games were close — but they were without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who were both ruled out for the season before the playoffs.
Now, Irving and Hayward are back, and the Celtics look like the favorites. Philadelphia struck out on all the free-agent wings, so while Embiid and Simmons should both take major steps forward — and they were formidable opponents to being with — the Celtics have more star power.
Whether that translates early in the season (and, in fact, whether it translates at all) remains to be seen. It’s possible the Celtics won’t coalesce perfectly, and it’s possible Embiid and Simmons become so good, they can take down Boston even without reinforcements.
But the Celtics don’t sound concerned.
“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,” Terry 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.”
Other pre-game notes:
– Gordon Hayward will be on a 25-minute limit for the start of the season, according to Brad Stevens.
– Stevens also hinted the starting lineup against Philly might be a little different than the starters against other teams. That might mean a heavy dose of Aron Baynes, whose size is a nice counter to Joel Embiid (and oddly, Ben Simmons).
– If Baynes starts, the question is begged: Who comes off the bench? In the early going, the easy answer is Hayward — he’s the one still working his way back to full health. Later in the season, someone’s ego might get a little bruised. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but with all the talent in their locker room, the Celtics are walking a bit of a thin line.
The Celtics and 76ers tip off at 8:00 p.m. on TNT at the TD Garden.