Basketball returns with a bang tonight.
The NBA has matched up two of its rising teams on opening night on its most popular network for a primetime look at the best rivalry in the league. And in case you did not realize it, your Philadelphia 76ers will be involved.
The Boston Celtics host the Sixers tonight in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. Boston won that series in five games and won seven of the nine meetings between the two teams last year. In fact, the Sixers have not beaten the Celtics at TD Garden since April 2014.
Tonight, both teams will have all of their stars on the floor for the first time against each other. Even with all of the stars on the court, the biggest focus could be on Markelle Fultz, who will be getting his first career NBA start.
Fultz played just 17 minutes against the Celtics last season, scoring six points in the second game of the year. The excitement, or anxiety, around the return of his “new/old self” will build on Tuesday night the moment he steps foot on the court. If he is fully healthy and can handle the ball at the same speed he showed in spurts last season, the smallest threat of a jump shot can make a positive difference in this season’s series with Boston.
Kyrie Irving returns to the series after playing well in three games against the Sixers last season. Boston won all three games Irving played against Philadelphia as he averaged 25.7 points per game on 45 percent shooting, including a 36-point performance in a victory at Boston. However, the Sixers did force Irving into four turnovers with just 4.7 assists per game.
The 76ers will likely throw different defensive looks at Irving tonight, including Ben Simmons and Robert Covington. If Fultz has improved on the defensive end, he could pull the Irving assignment to allow Simmons and Covington to focus on Boston’s bigger players like Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward.
Philadelphia was a top three defensive team last season and while the Celtics may not be the best offensively, matchups could become a problem for the Sixers tonight. Trying to hide Dario Saric on the defensive end might be impossible to do against Boston’s starting five.
Of course, the Sixers have their own nightmare matchups for other teams. Joel Embiid will continue to be the go-to-player for Philadelphia’s offense this season. Boston did a good job against Embiid last season, as he averaged just 17.3 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting in three regular games. He saw improvement in his efficiency during the postseason series but cutting down on turnovers should be a key for Embiid this season. In eight total games against the Celtics last year, Embiid turned the ball over 25 times.
Boston was also able to force Simmons into difficult situations throughout the season last year. In his nine games against the Celtics, Simmons turned the ball over 39 times and shot just 47.6 percent from the field.
J.J. Redick started every game he was available in last season but will be coming off the bench tonight. Redick has not come off the bench since April 4, 2014 when he was with the Clippers. His production will be vital tonight in helping the team’s second unit put points on the board. During the regular season, Redick shot 59 percent from beyond the arc against the Celtics before coming back down to earth in the postseason series (34.2 3PT percent).
The excitement around the opening game is enough for Sixers fans to get excited but throw in a trip to Boston and it gets a little crazy. The most important thing to remember about tonight is there will be 81 more games in the regular season. With that being said, basketball is back so enjoy the game and enjoy going crazy.
When: 8 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA