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Big men come up small in Sixers' preseason-opening loss to Celtics

Against the Celtics' front court trio of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Brandon Bass, Nerlens Noel and the rest of the Sixers' big men struggled mightily.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — Nerlens Noel gingerly slumped out of the Philadelphia 76ers locker room. His head hung low, his hightop staring media members in the face rather than his usual wide smile.

"I don't think I played well at all," Noel said following the Sixers' 98-78 loss to the Boston Celtics in their preseason opener on Monday night. "It was a combination of things. I think I didn't really have the right mindset coming out. I was a little quick with everything. It's been a process of trying to just slow down and think things through and not making such quick moves."

Noel missed his first six shots and finished just 2-for-9 from the field. At just 217 pounds, he struggled mightily battling for position in the paint against the Celtics' front court trio of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Brandon Bass — a crew that's far from world-beaters.

"Those are big guys, obviously, and they got me off the block," Noel admitted. "But I just have to do a better job of getting low positioning and staying low to the ground and just going back to what I'm good at. I'm a more slighted guy, so I have to play low to the ground and I lost some of those principles. That's what I really have to work on, getting those back."

Noel's adjustment to the actual NBA, not just Summer League fanfare, obviously has an extra obstacle of overcoming an entire year off from live-action basketball. It wasn't a surprise he found difficulty adjusting to the pace of the game and the physicality of the league. He fouled out after 27 minutes of action with 4:28 remaining in the contest.

The rookie big man wasn't the only member Sixer to struggle up front. Brett Brown's first four big men, Noel, Henry Sims, Arnett Moultrie and Brandon Davies all registered at least four fouls, shot a combined 14-for-41 (34.1 percent) and turned the ball over a combined 12 times.

"It's always that fine line of trying to play hard versus just whacking people," Brown said. "We did get in foul trouble, that was to be expected. I think everybody played fast, it was a typical first game. A bunch of people looking around, shaking peoples' hands, many of them have never played in an NBA game before or played with each other. It's just part of our inching along process."

Amidst a adverse game for Brown's club, Hollis Thompson and K.J. McDaniels emerged as bright spots for Philly.

Thompson played just 22 minutes and barely appeared in the second half. Before his extended rest, though, he drained all five of his shots, including a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point land, for 15 points. McDaniels swatted four shots and nabbed two steals in 21 minutes off the bench.

"Physically, I see special things defensively," Brown said of McDaniels. "You see several of our guys have the ability to go after shots and leave floors and bother them at the rim. I think K.J. has an interesting physical side that he can be grown into something different as far as an NBA defender."

Tony Wroten also finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists after starting off slow.

Next up, the Sixers will welcome the Charlotte Hornets to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday for their preseason home opener.