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    Celtics showcase depth, Warriors their firepower

    Oct 17, 2018
    PHOTO: AP
    spin zone

    CHICAGO - Kyrie Irving shot the ball as though he wore baseball mitts, 1-for-8 from three-land and 2-of-14 overall, a no-star performance in which the ace point guard only netted seven points, seven assists and three turnovers.

    Gordon Hayward, recoiling from the nervous excitement of his first regular season game since breaking a leg a year ago, missed eight of 12 field goals to finish with a meager harvest of just 10 points and five rebounds.

    Opening their season at home at the TD Garden, in front of 18,624 restless souls, Boston misfired badly, 42 of 97 from the field, 11 of 37 from long distance, and 10-of-14 from the stripe.

    But the Celtics easily beat the Philadephia 76ers anyway, 105-87, doing it so with the ease of an early morning jog.

    It's just one sample from a pool of 82 games, but it offered more than just a glimpse of why these Celtics are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. They're overly talented and composed, plucky and resilient, and when all else fails, their brick wall defense can carry the day.

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    Consider this. While the Sixers relied heavily on their two All-Star horses - Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons - who combined for 42 points, 25 boards and 10 assists, the Celtics had five guys scoring in double figures in points.

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    While Simmons and Embiid labored through 43 and 37 minutes, respectively, Boston maintained fresh legs on the parquet floor, thanks to a deep rotation in which nine dudes played to a wonderfully paced 19 to 30 minutes range.

    To compensate for Irving and Hayward's hiccup, Jason Tatum had 23 points and nine boards. Marcus Morris added 16 and 10 while Terry Rozier chipped in 10 and eight assists. "Big Al" Horford tallied a smallish nine points, but the 11-year vet did the usual crud work with four rebounds and five blocks.

    While their star power will make the headlines and rattle the scoreboards, it's Boston's defense - last year's best and this season's finest so far - that will take them to the NBA Finals in June.

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    The Celtics harassed the Sixers into making only 34 of 87 shots (39.1 percent) and they closed out on the 3-point shooters, holding Philly to a lukewarm 5-of-26 treys (19.2 percent). Pressured, almost all of their shots contested, the Sixers didn't help their cause by clunking 10 of 24 free throws.

    While assessing his team's performance, a modest 41-year old Celtics coach Brad Stevens tossed the word "decent" among the pile.

    But what if Irving returns to full form after a pair of knee procedures? And what if Hayward rediscovers his stroke?

    For the rest of the league, the answer is: Watch out.

    THE MARQUEE said Golden State versus OKC, a showdown that was supposed to entice excitement.

    But in reality, the Warriors were not fighting the Thunder. The two-time defending champs were fighting boredom and sleep- walked their way through a relatively listless, 108-100 victory to launch their three-peat bound.

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    Without the recuperating Russell Westbrook, the Thunder lacked fleet and flight. They stood no chance against an elite unit which got 59 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists between Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

    With Paul George dropping 15 of his 27 points in the third quarter, the Thunder showed a little resistance but it wasn't enough to move the competitive meter or stifle the yawns of a late night double-header.

    The Warriors got their rings in a pre-game ceremony that wrapped the Oracle Arena in a joyful bubble of celebration.

    But when the music died and the speeches echoed down, tip-off came.

    And it was business as usual for the rampaging Warriors.

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    PHOTO: AP
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