NBA

Boston Celtics' depth affords them a high floor until they play their best basketball

Jay Asser 22:31 17/10/2018
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After months of anticipation, the Boston Celtics finally showed the advantage they’ll have thanks to their incredibly deep roster.

Their 105-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the season opener on Tuesday didn’t reveal Boston’s ceiling – the full potential of their powers will have to be realised on another night.

But in a game they won comfortably despite playing nowhere near their best basketball, what was evident was the Celtics’ floor.

The two biggest additions to last season’s surprise playoff team that got within a game of the Finals, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, played ancillary roles instead of being the 1A and 1B on Tuesday.

Irving missed all eight of his first-half attempts and finished with just seven points on 2-of-14 shooting, while Hayward – playing his first regular-season game in a year since his gruesome ankle injury – had 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

Both contributed in other ways as Irving had seven assists and Hayward had four steals, but it was Boston’s depth that was the real star of the show.

The Celtics had five players in double figures – Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier – while none of their nine rotation players logged more than 30 minutes.

On the flip side, Philadelphia were top-heavy with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons leading the way in both points (23 and 19) and minutes (37 and 43).

Whereas the Sixers need their two horses to carry the load night in and night out, Boston have the luxury of spreading the burden around thanks to their mix of veteran All-Stars, young emerging talent and deep bench.

Off-games for Irving no longer spell doom, but instead cede the floor for Tatum or Brown or Rozier to be the main scoring threat that night.

It may take some time for Brad Stevens’ squad to perfectly fit all the pieces together, but the Celtics can still keep winning in the interim off the richness of their talent alone.

That quality puts the Celtics on a level above Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, with the Sixers now 2-8 against Boston since the beginning of last season. Both of those wins also came in games Irving missed.

There’s plenty of bad blood and history between the two franchises, but the only ‘rivalry’ right now is a theoretical one.

“This is not a rivalry,” Embiid said. “I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our a**.”

Until the Sixers improve their roster by adding more top-end talent, the gulf between them and the Celtics isn’t shrinking anytime soon.

FRONT AND CENTRE

If the Golden State Warriors had one weakness coming into the season, it was at centre, the only position where they don’t feature an All-Star – at least until DeMarcus Cousins returns.

But Golden State’s biggest flaw didn’t look like much of an issue on opening night, when the Warriors beat the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder 108-100.

Damian Jones and Kevon Looney didn’t just hold their own, they actually turned heads with how well the centre combo played.

Jones started and logged 27 minutes, while Looney came off the bench for 18 minutes. They combined for 22 points on 11-of-18 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds, four assists and five blocks.

Whether it was functioning as the roll man after setting a screen, or hitting the offensive glass, Jones and Looney were critical on a night the Warriors weren’t at their best.

Looney in particular was ferocious defensively and on the boards, finishing with a team-best plus-23 plus-minus.

He and Jones helped Golden State out-rebound the Thunder by a 57-46 margin, which included 16 on the offensive end. The Warriors ranked 19th in the league in rebounding rate last season (49.7 per cent) and finishing possessions by securing the board has been a weak point for them over the years.

With David West, JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia no longer around, Jones and Looney will be counted on to provide quality minutes, especially if Cousins doesn’t look like himself returning from an Achilles tear.

So far, the young big men look up to the task.

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