PHILADELPHIA — One of the general narratives the Celtics clung to after their 107-93 loss to the 76ers on Wednesday was that the team generated the open shots it wanted, but was just unfortunate that they did not happen to go in.
“Well, we got good looks,” Gordon Hayward said. “We got a lot of good looks, so you’ll take that every day of the week and bank on us making more of those. Sometimes you just miss some of those.”
“We were kind out of sync on the offensive end a lot of the night, as far as shooting the basketball,” Brad Stevens said. “But I thought we generated some decent looks. I thought guys got to the rim and tried to get to the rim. And I thought they generated some decent looks from 3, they just didn’t go in.”
The truth was that the 76ers were considerably worse at making open shots than the Celtics were. According to the NBA’s tracking data, Boston was 15 for 33 on uncontested shots (45.5 percent). That is hardly sparkling, but also not unforgivable.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, made just 14 of 48 uncontested attempts (29.2 percent). The Celtics have better shooters than the Sixers, so they should make a higher percentage of tries when a defender is not invading personal space. But it is not as if Boston simply had an unlucky night.
Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were the only two Boston players whose accuracy was noticeably off when unguarded. Walker was 2 for 7 on uncontested tries and Smart was 1 for 5. Anyone who has followed Smart during his Celtics tenure knows there will be days like this. But Walker’s poor aim was certainly more unusual.
“I thought I got my shots, the shots I love to take,” Walker said. “I thought I got to my spots. I just missed.”
If Walker had nerves in his first game as a Celtic, they were not evident at the start. He made three of his first five shots, including a 3-pointer and a savvy pull-up in the paint after drawing contact from the talented 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle.
But his offensive game spiraled after that, as he missed his next 12 attempts. When Walker converted his 3-point play midway through the second quarter, it gave the Celtics a 40-33 lead, their largest of the game. After Walker’s 12th miss in a row that followed that, the Celtics trailed, 85-73, in the fourth quarter and never really had a chance again.
“I don’t think I was pressing at all,” Walker said. “I thought I was being aggressive just playing the game. I don’t think I was pressing. I was just missing.”
Walker is a career 35.7 percent 3-point shooter, so there will be some nights when his struggles from beyond the arc are apparent. But he can usually make up for them by getting to the rim or finding good mid-range openings.
The problem on Wednesday was that those situations did not end well, either. After missing a 3 and a pull-up jumper, Walker twice tried to draw contact as he attacked the rim. The first time he did, he appeared to be fouled, and the second time he claimed to be. There was no whistle on either play, however, even as Walker ended up on the ground both times, raising his palms in the air as he looked at the referees in frustration.
After another 3-pointer rattled out, Walker once again ended up on the ground as he tried to draw contact on a missed layup.
Even when he tried to hit some confidence-gaining mid-range jumpers, the 76ers’ length on the perimeter seemed to fluster him a bit. On various possessions he found himself facing the long arms of Al Horford, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. Once, he drove on Embiid and then retreated to the right baseline, and Embiid declined to follow him.
Finally, there was a completely wide open short jumper there for the taking, but Walker double-clutched, perhaps uneasy about how open he was, and the ball thudded off the rim.
“I’m not worried about [Walker],” Stevens said. “He’s a great offensive player so some of those shots will go down. Some of those things had to do with, again, they guarded him well. And we’ll just continue to ask him to be himself because he’s awfully good.”
Everything is magnified on opening night, of course, and after this 4 for 18 performance, Walker and Stevens both correctly pointed out that this is just one game, and that one bad shooting night can quickly be washed away with a good one.
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The Celtics said that center Enes Kanter will miss Friday’s game against the Raptors with a left knee contusion. Also, center Tacko Fall (concussion) and wing Romeo Langford (knee) remain out.