PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers have a tradition in which some celebrity walks onto the court before each game and rings a replica of the Liberty Bell.
In past big games, the honor has gone to people like comedian Kevin Hart, the rapper Meek Mill and 76ers Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. The act is usually not done by a current player, but in Philadelphia’s season-opener against the Celtics on Wednesday night, a notable exception was made.
Al Horford was a logical choice, since he signed a four-year, $109 million contract with the team last summer. But the other antagonizing significance was not lost.
For the past three years, Horford had come here as a Celtic and mostly frustrated and stymied the 76ers. Now, by his choice, he was on their side. And that meant he was not on Boston’s anymore, and so he struck the bell and the fans here roared and the tone was set.
“It was a really cool moment,” Horford said. “I enjoyed it. I felt like it was special.”
But the more emphatic moment might have come in the final minute, as Horford blitzed through the lane and threw down a powerful one-handed dunk, putting a stamp on his team’s 107-93 win that offered the first glimpse at both of these new-look rosters.
The Celtics had a chance to unveil their own multiple All-Star in Kemba Walker. If it is possible to be an All-NBA point guard and toil in relative anonymity, Walker had done it during his time in Charlotte. He did not win a playoff series in his eight years there, and had rarely played in games with a spotlight like Wednesday’s since he starred at UConn.
He will have memorable nights this year in which he puts up pinball-like scores, but this was not one of them, as he made just 4-of-18 shots and finished with 12 points and 2 assists.
“Tough night for many of us, but me personally, I just wish I could have done a lot more and played better for these guys,” Walker said. “But you live and you learn.”
(Meanwhile, about 100 miles away in Brooklyn, former Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving was erupting for 50 points—more than he ever scored with Boston—in his debut with the Nets. Although his team lost, too.)
Walker was hardly the only Celtics player to scuffle, however. Boston made just 36.7 percent of its shots, 26.9 percent of its 3-pointers and 58.8 percent of its free throws. Jayson Tatum was 8 for 22 and had four turnovers. Jaylen Brown played just 21 minutes after being slowed by foul trouble.
The Celtics looked, well, like a team that had not really played together very much. Still, coach Brad Stevens struck an optimistic tone afterward. He had spent much of the past week cautioning that the start of this season could be rocky, particularly with challenging road games like Wednesday’s.
“I just told the guys I thought we did a lot of good things,” Stevens said. “. . . But I’m a lot more encouraged than discouraged. I thought we really came out and fought. It was a heck of an environment, played a really good team. Now we’ve just got to get better.”
Gordon Hayward finished with 25 points to lead the Celtics and Tatum added 21, but he was more focused on the 14 shots that did not go in.
“Like, I felt like I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean,” Tatum said.
Ben Simmons made 11 of 16 shots and had 24 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds to pace Philadelphia.
When he had the ball beyond the 3-point line, fans loudly urged him to fire up a shot. He is 0 for 17 in his career from beyond the arc and has been working to change that. But in this game he was content to slash to the basket and do his damage there, just as he did when he became an All-Star last year.
Joel Embiid was held to 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Enes Kanter started at center for Boston and did a good job slowing Embiid — often with the help of double teams — and that was encouraging. But the problem with facing this Sixers team is that weapons — and long arms — lurk everywhere.
“I thought we did a pretty good job on [Embiid],” Hayward said. “We just have to be better about not giving up layups, not giving up too many easy things for Ben or any of those other guys.”
With 63 combined fouls, several video reviews, and general first-night cobwebs, the general flow of the game was grisly.
But the Celtics took a 40-33 lead on a 3-point play by Walker midway through the second quarter anyway, and there was some hope. Then the Sixers cobbled together a 19-2 run that started in the second quarter and carried into the third.
During that stretch at the start of the second half, Brown picked up his fifth foul when he was called for elbowing Embiid in the face on the drive. Brown went back to the bench, and the Philly lead quickly swelled to 12.
The Celtics clawed back, though, pulling within 77-73 early in the fourth quarter. Then the 76ers pulled away again. They had made just 3-of-24 3-pointers in the game’s first 39 minutes, but drilled a pair over a 23-second stretch, the second one coming from Kyle O’Quinn, a career 20.9 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
“It’s a long season and our story isn’t written after one game,” Stevens said. “Nobody’s is. You move forward and try to get better off of it and move on.”