AMHERST — After months of waiting, after the draft and free agency and questions about whether the Celtics had done enough to join the NBA’s elite, they finally took the floor together and unveiled at least part of their new look.
There was Al Horford, the $113 million man. There was Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 overall pick. And those two headliners joined so many other familiar faces, as Boston opened the preseason with a 92-89 loss to the 76ers at the University of Massachusetts on Tuesday.
The final result might appear puzzling, as the 76ers are one of the worst teams in the NBA, and they were without injured No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons and 2015 No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor. But Boston’s starters generally had their way with Philadelphia’s first unit before the second- and third-string players allowed the lead to slip away.
Horford, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas finished with 11 points apiece, and all three were used sparingly in the second half. The Celtics outscored the 76ers by 19 points during Horford’s 15 minutes of play.
“I think when you’re able to move the ball like that, you become a dangerous team and I know it’s just the first exhibition game but I take a lot of positives from this,” Horford said. “We were getting a lot of good looks and that’s what you want on offense.”
It did not take long for the Celtics to get a look at Horford, as the forward drilled a 19-footer just 12 seconds into the game. He then banked in a jump shot, and Bradley and Jae Crowder combined to make their first four 3-pointers as the Celtics blitzed to a 23-9 lead.
“I mean, we looked really good in that first six-seven minutes,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought everything had a purpose. And then I thought our second unit didn’t play as well. It looked a little bit more stagnant.”
There will be some questions about the second unit’s ability to score this season, and with Kelly Olynyk and Gerald Green both sidelined, those questions were even more glaring, as the backups started the game by making just 2 of their first 17 shots.
The Celtics led, 63-53, late in the third quarter when Philadelphia charged back with a 16-0 burst, as a Brandon Paul 3-pointer gave the 76ers a 69-63 lead.
Philadelphia led by as many as 9 points in the fourth quarter before Brown flashed the athleticism that has the Celtics buzzing about his potential. He drove the lane and soared in for a dunk, he converted an acrobatic layup and then had a strong finish inside. The last basket made it 86-84.
“I had mismatches, so it made the floor, made the game a lot easier,” Brown said. “And I touched the ball a lot as a four. So it was really comfortable.”
The Celtics trailed, 92-89, with 10 seconds left and had two final chances to tie, but Marcus Smart and Jordan Mickey both missed 3-pointers in the final seconds. The Celtics will face the Hornets in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday night.