First Game: How worried should this make us?

Celtics make light work of the Sixers

Let’s call a spade a spade. That basketball game Tuesday night absolutely stunk from start to finish. The Sixers began this season right where they left off last: simply outmatched in Boston. Obviously, this was only the first game of the season. It’s incredibly easy to overreact to the season opener, and everything said about this game in terms of the bigger picture does need to be taken with the caveat that this is an 82 game season. Not to mention that the team on the floor Tuesday will not be the same come April.

That said, the first game of the 2018-19 season is not concerning because the Sixers lost. It’s not concerning because Simmons still can’t and won’t shoot, or because Robert Covington misses open shots. It’s concerning because when matched up against the team certain to be their competition in the East for the next decade to come, the Sixers displayed the same problems that plagued them last year, and the Celtics continue to widen the gap between the two sides.

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The future regarding Fultz

Markelle Fultz, today, is not a good NBA starter. That does not mean he never had the ability to be, and it does not mean he never will be. It simply means that when he takes the floor in an NBA regular season game, the Sixers are knowingly conceding a few possible points in hopes of their 2017 number one pick finding his former self. Given the fact that he was a team worst -16, it’s fair to say his playtime may lessen the chance of a Sixers win.

I think that’s okay, and as fans, we should understand and see the long-term value in giving him reps. The Sixers are going to make the playoffs this season with or without Fultz, and his development is more important than a few extra wins. Fultz, as of now, is what he is. He’ll show some flashes, as he did last night, and he’ll also make rookie mistakes and be frustrating to watch.

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One play, in particular, should leave Sixers fans hopeful and optimistic about Fultz’s future. Early in the second quarter, the Celtics were rolling. At a critical point in the game, Fultz created separation off the dribble and buried a mid-range jumper. This exact play is the reason the Sixers drafted Fultz. He was supposed to be the guy that, when the offense struggles, can take the ball and get a bucket. He did that last night. In a disappointing first game, that play is something Sixers fans should look to with hope in their heart.

Turnovers on top of turnovers

Last season the Sixers were turnover prone, giving the ball away a league-worst 16.5 times per game. Tuesday night they hit 16 on the dot. Some of these giveaways have to be credited to tough Boston defense. However, a fair share can be accredited to just carelessness and rookie-like mistakes that players like Joel Embiid and Covington should not be making.

Again, it’s just the first game of the season and we’ve got to try to not dig too deep into it. At the same time though, to beat the best teams in this league, which has to be the goal, the Sixers, and particularly their best player, can’t just throw away possessions.

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Embiid’s first game with a full offseason

I believe the 24-year-old Cameroonian is ready to make the step into the NBA elite this season. He is going to be dominant in the post offensively, and perpetually affect opponent’s shots on the¬†other end. However, despite 23 points and 10 rebounds on Tuesday night, this was not the case in Boston.

Embiid, like Fultz, showed flashes and is undeniably one of the most talented players in the league. For whatever reason, Al Horford and Aaron Baynes just find ways to make him uncomfortable. The more frustrated he got, and understandably so, the more he seemed to try to force things. As the team’s leader, it’s his job to take over when he needs to, and against most teams he does. When he matches up with the 32-year-old Horford, something changes.

It’s the first game of the season, and without feeling like I’m overreacting, that fact makes me nervous. Not because of the individual performance, but because it’s a continuation of what we saw just months ago. Embiid is a dominating force and will lead this team to the playoffs for years to come, but if he can’t get over the Horford hump, which feels ludicrous to say, it puts the team in a bind, to say the least.

The team around him is not completely void of responsibility for this. Because Ben Simmons, who had a solid opening night, Fultz, and TJ McConnell are such non-factors from three-point range, Celtics players can sag off and help in the post without any true threat of the three-ball hurting them.

The Sixers often, as they should, look to feed Embiid in the post. However, when the other players on the court are stagnant and non-dangerous from distance, there’s only so much he can do.

Sixers vs. Celtics long view

The 76ers are a good basketball team, and they will be for a long time. We didn’t wait through three years of a tank ensure a spot in the playoffs. We did it to deliver championships. The Boston Celtics are quite simply better than the Sixers, and that gap likely won’t be bridged by the development of Fultz or more reps for Embiid.

Does any of this mean the Sixers can’t beat the Celtics? Or that they’ll never beat them in a seven-game series? No, it does not. The Celtics are a better basketball team, but it’s at the very least worth noting that when Philly matches up with them, they do tend to simply hit shots and get the right rolls (see Aaron Baynes threes and Jaylen Brown blocked dunk that ended up in the basket).

Is it time to sound the alarms?

I don’t think it’s time to panic, but we have to accept the reality that for this team to truly become great, something significant has to change. That will likely come down to General Manager Elton Brand’s recruiting ability more than anything else.

The first game of the season does not determine the fate of the season itself. The Sixers are going to make the playoffs, and they’re going to be incredibly fun to watch while they do so. Chances are, by the time we get to April there will be a few new faces on the roster, not to mention the injured ones already there. Maybe all those guys combined will be enough to turn the tables, but frankly, I doubt it.

Bryan Colangelo spent two and a half years biding his time and making one significant move to impact this team’s future. That one move so far has been a disaster, and that term is probably too generous. As it stands, this Sixers team is in long-term trouble because their Atlantic Division counterparts are just better. That may not always be the case, but for the future, as it stands, Philadelphia basketball has a clear ceiling, and it’s not an NBA Championship.

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