James Harden shines, but Joel Embiid, Sixers’ defense struggle in opening night loss to Celtics

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James Harden got off to an encouraging start, but Joel Embiid and the Sixers’ defense looked a step behind as the Celtics cruised to an opening night win.

The 76ers were unable to keep the good Philadelphia sports vibes rolling as they dropped the season opener 126-117 to the Celtics Tuesday night in Boston. Despite 35 points from James Harden, it wasn’t enough to overcome a dreadful Joel Embiid performance and a scorcher from Jayson Tatum.

Here are some instant takeaways from the season opener.

First half

It could not have been a colder start for the Sixers. Boston’s defense was absolutely smothering out of the gate. Philly struggled to get shots off as they got off to just a 1-of-7 start from the field and turned the ball over three times in the first three minutes of action. The audio on the TNT feed was ahead of the game action, which was jarring.

Tobias Harris looked very good early on. His eight first-quarter points woke Philly up in a sense. Harris continued the 3-and-D role he took up last postseason, guarding Jaylen Brown on the defensive end and letting threes fly quickly on the offensive end.

James Harden had an excellent first quarter, scoring 16 of Philly’s first 29 points. He drew a foul on his patented step-back three three times in the first quarter, and went to the line eight times in total in the first period.

Joel Embiid did not look sharp out of the gate. Boston did a good job of knowing when to send double teams at him and making he sure he wasn’t catching the ball near the basket. Jayson Tatum’s help defense was particularly frustrating for the big fella.
It was truly a wild first half for Harden, with 22 points on 5 of 9 shooting and four assists to boot, he had everyone talking when he shimmied Marcus Smart out of the picture, but barely hit the rim on the three ball.

Only to come down and hit this as the shot clock expired only a few possessions later

Second half

A very eventful start to the second half, as a tangle-up with Smart and Embiid led to a technical foul on Smart. The third quarter began to unravel for Philly. They weren’t able to get much of anything going on the offensive end. They looked completely stagnant, too often watching Embiid and Harden use the entire shot clock trying to create something. The Sixers were also too careless with the basketball, doubling the Celtics in turnovers and being beat 22-2 in fast-break points through three quarters.

While his box score numbers weren’t horrendous (26 points on 9-18 shooting, 15 rebounds) Embiid’s performance left a lot to be desired. He looked checked out on both ends in the second, missing some rotations leading to easy Celtics baskets. While this may cause some Sixers fans to panic, remember he looked similarly lethargic in the season opener last year in New Orleans.

Philly struggled to contain Jayson Tatum all night, but his third quarter was especially back breaking. Seventeen of his 35 came in the frame. The Sixers had their hands full with both Jays, as Jaylen Brown finished with 35 points of his own.

The Sixers finally got Tyrese Maxey involved as the fourth quarter started, but it was too little, too late. They were simply trading baskets down 10 by this point, unable to make a serious dent in the lead.