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CELTICS 112, 76ERS 95

Opening-night rout fuels Celtics’ optimism

T.J. McConnell of the 76ers lands on the back of Isaiah Thomas as the Celtics guard drives to the hoop. JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

The beauty of opening night is that possibility comes from all corners. No teams are staring up from impossibly deep spots in the standings. No coaches are on hot seats. And for everyone, first place is just a day away.

Opening night is where to find hope and happiness and newness, where even fans know that the pretzel they just bought is not a day old.

The Celtics started the season at home on Wednesday, surrounded by expectations that seem to be growing by the day. A deep and talented roster, an Eastern Conference that is improving but still navigable, and a rising star for a head coach spurred the belief that maybe this team that recently seemed in the depths of a rebuild could be onto something bigger.


It is a necessary disclaimer that Boston's opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, will most likely be the worst team in the NBA this season. Still, the Celtics did nothing in their 112-95 win to crease the noticeable optimism.

"We've got some unselfish guys that want to see others succeed," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. "And we've got a group of guys that try to make the right play every time down. And Coach is big on that."

On offense, the Celtics appeared crisp and comfortable. They moved the ball with purpose and made extra passes to find open teammates. Boston registered assists on 31 of its 39 made field goals. The overmatched and undermanned 76ers, by comparison, had just 12 assists on 34 baskets.

One of this Celtics team's strengths will be its depth, and it was on display. Led by Thomas, who led all scorers with 27 points, the reserves actually outscored the starters, 67-45. Nine players logged 15 minutes or more.

"Our bench has to be a great source of energy and scoring and everything else for us," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.


The Celtics' second unit is one of the few — if not the only one — in the NBA that could be completely swapped with the starters without leading to raised eyebrows. In addition to Thomas, who missed his first four shots, then made 10 of his final 15, forwards Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger provided lifts off the bench, combining for 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Thomas and Johnson, in particular, appeared quite comfortable in the pick-and-roll. They did not look like teammates playing their first NBA game together.

"He just knows how to play the game, he keeps it simple," Thomas said. "He knows where to set the screens, he knows the pick-and-pop. He's a guy with a high basketball IQ."

The questions about Sullinger's offseason training regimen, meanwhile, became one of the stories of the summer, and during the preseason it appeared that the burly forward had slid down the depth chart.

But on Wednesday, Sullinger quickly dismissed his preseason performances.

And when 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor dominated the opening minutes against Tyler Zeller, making his first five shots, Sullinger came in and helped slow down the former Duke star.

"Just try to bump [Okafor] early," Sullinger said. "Trying to gas him out early. Meet him at the free throw line, couldn't let him get deep position. Some of the shots he was hitting, it was like, man, it was his night. I knew for a fact those shots weren't going to beat us."


The 76ers actually surged to a 26-17 first-quarter lead, but it did not last, as the Celtics seized control with a 19-2 second-quarter run.

"We found ourselves in a hole, which probably isn't all bad in our first game to see how you respond," Stevens said. "And we responded."

Boston was 11 of 22 from the field in the second quarter and Philadelphia made just 5 of 22 attempts as the Celtics took a 51-40 halftime lead. Philadelphia lingered in the third quarter, pulling within 5 points three times, but there was never a sense the 76ers were a threat.

When Jae Crowder drilled a 3-pointer with a minute left and gave the Celtics their largest lead, 110-90, the sellout crowd began to celebrate and the Celtics began to think about what comes next.

Stevens has said there will be nights when players are not happy with their playing time. And in this game, he pulled Zeller aside at halftime and told him that while matchups might dictate that this would not be his night, there would be plenty of other times when he was needed.

And when the Raptors visit TD Garden on Friday, forward Kelly Olynyk will rejoin the team after a one-game suspension and the minutes will be at even more of a premium. But as long as the wins are flowing and the ball is moving, no one in this locker room expects this to be an issue.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.