By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics didn’t play particularly well in their season-opening victory over the 76ers. But they didn’t have to, because Jayson Tatum continued his dominance over Boston’s divisional rival.
As a rusty Gordon Hayward returned, and Kyrie Irving struggled to hit shots, Boston’s 20-year-old sensation trampled all over Philadelphia to the tune of a game-high 23 points. He did it in just about every way possible, connecting from everywhere on the floor, driving to the basket with ease, and getting to the free throw line. Tatum shot 9-for-17 on the night, adding nine rebounds and three assists in Boston’s 105-87 win.
“We need him to be great,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of his budding superstar. “We talked about Gordon and Kyrie really having good weeks, coming off those injuries and not playing in the last couple exhibition games. But the other guy that really went to a different level – because he struggled a little bit in the exhibition games – was Tatum. And, he’s a good player and we need him to be good.”
It didn’t really matter who Philly threw at him defensively; Tatum was going to score. That included Joel Embiid, whom Tatum danced around late in the fourth quarter before banking in a deep jumper over the Philly big man.
That bucket was an exclamation point on Tatum’s big night, and he followed it up by giving Embiid a little wink as he went up the floor.
When Tatum wasn’t working out with Kobe Bryant this offseason, he was hitting the gym with Embiid. But that didn’t keep the duo from talking plenty of trash Tuesday night.
“We were talking the whole game,” said Tatum. “We had fun.”
Tatum’s dominance against Philadelphia is pretty special, considering Danny Ainge swapped picks with the 76ers ahead of last year’s draft. Ainge was able to snag Tatum with the No. 3 pick while also picking up an additional pick (we all know the backstory of the #KingsPick), while Philadelphia went with Markelle Fultz at No. 1 overall. Fultz is still a project for Philly, scoring five points but finishing a minus-16 in his 24 minutes of play, while Tatum is an absolute stud in Boston.
That storyline just adds to the revamped Celtics-76ers rivalry. But with Boston taking seven of their last nine matchups, Embiid said it really isn’t much of a rivalry at all.
“This is not a rivalry,” the Philly big man told reporters. “I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our [butts], so this is not a rivalry.”
That should remain the case until Philadelphia figures out how to slow down Tatum. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.