THE two teams tipped to meet in this year’s NBA Finals host the opening games of the season today as reigning champion Golden State entertains Oklahoma City and Eastern favourite Boston welcomes Philadelphia.
While there’s no debate about the Warriors’ supremacy — both in the West and overall — Australia’s Ben Simmons has declared his team is ready to take over the finally LeBron-less Eastern Conference.
Simmons echoed Philly coach Brett Brown’s call the 76ers aim this season is an NBA Finals berth on the eve of their visit to Boston. “It should be our goal,” Simmons said. “We don’t play for anything else.”
The Celtics-Sixers opener tipped off at 11am AEDT. Warriors-Thunder follows at 1.30pm.
Welcome back Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward started for Boston in his first game back since a horrific ankle injury in last year’s season-opener, but he went scoreless in the first quarter.
Back-to-back baskets to open the second term settled the nerves and a Marcus Smart three capped a 7-0 Celtics run that made it 28-21.
Simmons helps 76ers recover from ‘awful’ opening
The first two minutes of the NBA season opener was a dog’s breakfast as the 76ers and Celtics produced a littany of errors and missed shots.
A Joel Embiid lay-up was the only score as Boston started 0/5 from the field.
An overall awful first two minutes — for Boston and Philly.
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) October 17, 2018
Jayson Tatum stopped the rot with a pull-up jumper from the free throw line but it was 8-7 in Philly’s favour when the first timeout was called with 6:51 remaining in the quarter.
Ben Simmons started well and his first points — a right-handed lay-up — ended a 10-0 Boston run that had the home crowd rocking. Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored the Celtics’ first 14 points before Marcus Morris entered and hit a jumper that made it 16-11.
In his new role as a sixth man, JJ Redick hit just one of his first four shots but Simmons started pushing the ball in transition and Philly reeled off a 7-0 run to level it at 21-21 at the first break.
Dario Saric (six points, four rebounds) and Joel Embiid (six points, three rebounds) led the 76ers in scoring but it was Simmons (five points, three assists, six rebounds, one steal, one block) having the biggest impact.
Ben Simmons is just filthy good, in an era where shooting is by far most important skill in NBA, he can dominate game while punting that skill altogether. He really reminds me of Magic Johnson
— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) October 17, 2018
Embiid watching pre-game cartoons
Joel Embiid getting ready by watching Rick and Morty.
— SB Nation (@SBNation) October 16, 2018
NBA stars remain the most entertaining pre-game performers.
After Kyrie Irving arrived wearing a feather, Joel Embiid tuned in to Rick and Morty.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 16, 2018
If Warriors don’t three-peat ‘it’s a failure’
Golden State Warriors will commence the 73rd NBA season as heavy favourites to add to the three titles they have collected in the past four years.
The new campaign will begin with the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James in the Western Conference for the first time in his career and the Houston Rockets hoping the addition of 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony will get them over the top.
Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers — who tip things off at the TD Garden on Tuesday evening before the Warriors host the Oklahoma City Thunder — will both fancy their chances in the east.
A new arena is opening in Milwaukee, eight teams will have new coaches and the Warriors will aim for a first three-peat since the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in 2002.
“None of us are ready for this run to come to an end,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said. “So we’ve got to continue to approach it like we’ve got zero.”
The Warriors still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Green, and added big man DeMarcus Cousins — who will miss the start of the season after an Achilles injury — to round out an All-Star starting five.
Calling all the shots is coach Steve Kerr, who won five rings as a player and now three more as a coach. “If they don’t win, it’s a failure,” Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley Jr. said.
“I know that’s how they feel as well. For us, for the other 29 teams, we’re the underdog.”
Even Houston — who won more regular season games than any team last season, has the reigning MVP in James Harden, an elite point guard in Chris Paul and led the Warriors 3-2 in the 2018 conference finals before an untimely injury curtailed their hopes — are underdogs.
“We’ve all got one goal, man,” Harden said. “You’ll keep hearing the same story over and over until I’m not here no more. We’ve got to win a ‘chip. We’ve all got the same goal.”
After 15 seasons in the Eastern Conference, James — who has played in each of the past eight NBA Finals, winning three titles — joined the Lakers. He’s teamed up with talented young players like Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, and veterans like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson but will that be enough in the loaded west?
“I’m a basketball player,” James said. “I play ball. That’s what I do and that’s what I live by.
“And when I do it at the level I do it at, everything else takes care of itself.”
The only certainty in the NBA this season is that James won’t be on a side winning the east.
Boston, Ben Simmons’ Philadelphia and the Toronto Raptors (after their trade for Kawhi Leonard) are the top candidates to make the NBA Finals from the east, although in Giannis Antetokounmpo the Bucks have an MVP candidate running the show.
The Celtics get Gordon Hayward and a healthy Kyrie Irving back while Simmons and Joel Embiid have already showed they are one of the best duos in the league.
Gregg Popovich no longer has Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili with him in San Antonio and the Spurs, who have been battered by injuries, are no lock to extend their 21-year run of playoff appearances.
There’s plenty of stories. But in the end it’ll be all about finding a way to beat Golden State — or not.