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76ers Use Physical, Aggressive Mentality to Defeat Boston Celtics, 107-93, in Opener

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Philadelphia 76ers began their season with a 107-93 win over the rival Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center. It took only one game to see the Sixers play a smash mouth, bully ball style. 

Despite struggling from 3-point range, Philadelphia was able to fight through using physical defense and a balanced scoring effort that saw all the starters finish in double figures. 

The game was close through the first half, with the 76ers using a 7-2 run at the end of the half to take a 49-48 lead heading into halftime. However, the Sixers blew it open with a 13-2 run early in the third quarter and never looked back. 

Here are observations from the win.

Welcome to the new physical, smash mouth 76ers

Most matchups between Philadelphia and Boston involve a lot of grit and physicality, two things this new version of the 76ers excel at. At the 76ers media day, head coach Brett Brown said the team will utilize a smash mouth, bully ball style. When your shortest starter is 6-foot-6, it makes perfect sense to attempt to play with physicality. 

The 76ers finally were able to out-physical the Celtics. A total of 63 fouls were called between the two teams, and the 76ers did a better job converting on those fouls (see below). Kemba Walker, Boston's prized offseason acquisition, was held to 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting. Overall, Boston shot 36.7% from the field partially due to rust from the beginning of the season and partially due to the physical style of defense the 76ers were able to utilize. 

Ben Simmons showcased a physical mindset on offense

Simmons led the way for the 76ers on offense, finishing with 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting. He consistently played aggressively both in transition and in the half court, often resulting in an easy layup or drawing a foul. 

Brown spoke after the game about the aggressive mentality he saw from Simmons in the win. 

"He is just so gifted physically, but now it's starting to morph in with a mentality," he said. "You take that 6-10 body and that athleticism, that physical tank-like mentality, and it's a powerful combination ... By and large I thought he had an excellent game tonight and I especially liked his mindset physically and trying to put a thumb print on the game from a physical standpoint." 

If he can continue to play with the same physical, attacking mindset, the 76ers will be a very dangerous offensive team in transition. 

76ers' poor outside shooting continues over from preseason

One of the potential concerns regarding the 76ers heading into the season was if they had enough outside shooting. Their play in the preseason certainly did not paint a positive picture in that department. Philadelphia finished the preseason in the bottom third of the NBA in 3-point shooting, making them at a 31.7% clip. 

Here is what Brown had to say late in the preseason regarding the 76ers' preseason shooting struggles.

"I think that we have better shooters than the marketplace believes," Brown said. "Those comments, my comments, aren't well supported when you look at the statistics in the preseason, but I do think that. I still think that and it's stuff that we need to believe in that and not shy away from it. I don't want to at all and we won't shy away from it. I think that the attention that we have given to offensive rebounding may help ease some of those misses if we can do what we hope to do from that perspective. But I think that we have better shooters than we have shown in the preseason."

The 76ers definitely did not shy away from taking the 3-point shot in their opener against Boston. The team took 29 threes, making only seven of them, and did not make a three until their 10th attempt. Tobias Harris was the team's best outside shooter in the opener, shooting 2 of 5 from beyond the arc. 

Massive free-throw disparity helps 76ers get past Boston

One of the reasons why the 76ers came out on top on Wednesday night despite their shooting struggles was their success converting at the free-throw line. Philadelphia made 72.2% of their 36 attempts from the line compared to Boston's 58.8%. 

In a grit and grind kind of game like this was, converting on easy points from the free-throw line is important. Philadelphia was much better and it went a long way towards getting them the win. 

Stats and other important things

  • Rookie Matisse Thybulle had an up-and-down opening night. He got beat on defense by Kemba Walker on multiple occasions and finished the first half with three personal fouls. However, he continued to play aggressive defense around the arc and made a few positive defensive plays throughout the second half. On offense, he had a quiet night, not making his first shot until late in the fourth quarter. 
  • Brown wanted Harris to make it a priority to be more physical and hunt mismatches this season. For most of the game, Harris struggled to shoot from beyond the arc. However, he was having his way inside the paint on offense, making multiple shots against a smaller defender whether it be Marcus Smart or Semi Ojeleye. Harris finished with 15 points (6-of-11 from the field, 2-of-5 from 3-point range) and 15 rebounds. 
  • Embiid had a rough offensive game while trying to figure out how to beat the many double teams the Celtics were throwing at him. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds. On the defensive end, he continued to be a catalyst, recording three blocks and altering a countless other number of shots.
  • The addition of Al Horford quickly paid dividends against Boston. Embiid checked out of the game with 10:46 remaining in the fourth quarter due to being in foul trouble (five fouls), and he never had to come back in. Horford, and a little bit of Kyle O'Quinn, filled in and the team barely missed a step. In any previous season, the 76ers would not have been afforded the opportunity to sit Embiid like that. 
  • Embiid took an accidental elbow to the face from Jaylen Brown in the middle of the third quarter. After a few minutes during a stoppage in play, he came back out on the floor and did not miss any time due to the hit. However, he did leave the game soon after due to being in foul trouble. 
  • Josh Richardson had a good game on both ends of the floor. He played a major role in holding Kemba Walker to only 12 points, and he finished with 17 points while leading the Sixers in free-throw attempts. 

Up next

  • The 76ers travel to Detroit to face the Pistons, who will be without All-Star Blake Griffin. Tip-off is on Saturday at 7 p.m. EST. 

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