The 76ers’ home opener turned sour in a fourth quarter that went quickly south. The Boston Celtics earned their first win of the season with Friday’s 102-92 win over the Sixers, spoiling the party for the sellout crowd of 20,816 at the Wells Fargo Center.
And while it’s too easy to say the Sixers were a young team and still learning to win, the banged-up Celtics were forced to play with five rookies.
What this win did was rejuvenate the 1-2 Celtics and sucked the life out of the Sixers (0-2).
In the fourth quarter, four-time all-star Kyrie Irving showed his true form, with seven points and a plus-8 rating on the court.
“They got Kyrie, he is good in the fourth quarter, he is a good closer, so it is kind of hard,” said center Joel Embiid, who shot 2 for 6 in the final quarter, committed one turnover and was a minus-6 in 5 minutes and 37 seconds. “We have to play better defensively and offensively, we have to be better.”
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) October 21, 2017
The Sixers will need that fourth-quarter crunch-time performer like Irving to make the next step. He is somebody who revels in competing when the game is on the line.
“Oh man, that is winning time,” Irving said about the fourth quarter. “That right there is allowing the trust of the coaching staff and my teammates to have the flow of the game in the fourth quarter and get easy shots.”
Irving didn’t need to dominate the ball in the fourth quarter. He was more than willing to find open teammates, especially on the perimeter.
Shane Larkin, who was out of the NBA last year while playing in Spain, hit all three of his fourth-quarter shots, including both three-point attempts.
A more unlikely hero was rookie Jabari Bird, who didn’t score a fourth-quarter point, but was among the standouts. That’s because he was guarding J.J. Redick, who was just 1 for 4, including 0 for 2 from three, in the final period and a minus-13 on the court.
In the first three quarters, Redick had 17 points and had hit 4 of 5 from three-point range.
“I thought Jabari Bird coming in and guarding Redick and then Shane Larkin was tremendous, we needed everybody,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a left ankle and leg fracture in the Celtics’ opening game, Bird, who was prepared to play in the G-League, got a call to come to Boston.
And then he played his first NBA game on Friday and had his signature moment on defense.
Redick moves so well without the ball and it’s often difficult to keep up with him, but Bird had a different take.
“It was fun; he is one of the best shooters in the NBA and for the team to trust me with that responsibility,” Bird said.
Besides missing Hayward, the Celtics played without guard Marcus Smart, who had injured both ankles, and had Philadelphia product Marcus Morris out with a knee injury.
“Guys are realizing how hard it is to win in this league on any given night, especially in a (home) opener to the Philadelphia 76ers,” Irving said.
This was a depleted Celtics group, which made the win more impressive, and when the Sixers look back, they will realize they let a good opportunity slip away.