BOSTON (AP) – Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scored 35 points and the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers 126-117 in the NBA regular season opener on Tuesday night.
Malcolm Brogdon added 16 points and Grant Williams finished with 15 as the defending Eastern Conference champions gave interim coach Joe Mazzulla a win in his debut.
Mazzulla was tasked with managing the team after Ime Udoka was suspended for the season following an investigation by a law firm that found he had committed multiple violations of team rules.
Mazzulla successfully led a Celtics team that looked a lot like the one that surprisingly made it to the NBA Finals a season ago.
Boston took a 110-97 lead with 8 minutes to play and never trailed again.
James Harden scored 35 points – his most since joining the 76ers last season – including 12 of 12 from the free throw line. He also had five 3-pointers.
Joel Embiid added 26 points and 15 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey finished with 21 points.
Mazzulla vowed to keep his focus on building the culture that Udoka established on the field as the starting coach last season.
He insists that will be done primarily on the defensive end of the floor, but the offense was the story for the Celtics on Tuesday with 56% shooting from the field.
With big man Robert Williams out as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, the Celtics stuck with the same starting lineup they had during the preseason, playing defensive stalwart Derrick White along with Marcus Smart, Tatum, Brown and Al Horford.
The smaller group sped up Philadelphia at times, forcing the 76ers into 14 turnovers for the game, leading to 22 Boston.
The 76ers are looking to contend with the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and Harden is entering his first full season in Philadelphia after being traded for Ben Simmons late last season in a trade with Brooklyn.
Harden looked rejuvenated after a season defined by hamstring injuries that hampered his effectiveness in a shortened 21-game regular season with the Sixers last season.
The 10-time All-Star frustrated the Celtics, showing the mobility he lacked a year ago. He was often able to get to the free throw line. He was also efficient from the 3-point line, connecting on four in the first half, including a rainbow jumper from the top of the key to beat the shot clock late in the second quarter.
76ers: They were outscored 36-31. … Leading 29-24 at the end of the first quarter, Harden scored 16 points in the period and went 8 of 8 from the free throw line.
Celtics: Outshot the 76ers 44-38. … Shot 71% in the second quarter without any turnovers. … Opened the game on a 9-2 run before being outscored 27-15 by the end of the quarter.
Tempers flared briefly in the third quarter when Smart collided with Embiid standing over him after a rebound. Smart got up and shoved Embiid, leading to a brief scuffle between the teams.
After a review by the judges, Smart was assessed both personal and technical fouls.
The Celtics held the first of two planned ceremonies this season to commemorate the life and legacy of Bill Russell, who died July 31 at the age of 88.
There were videos highlighting some of Russell’s greatest moments on and off the court.
The team also wore number 6 patches on special edition jerseys. The uniforms featured 11 gold diamonds on the side, signifying the 11 championships Russell helped lead Boston to over a 13-year span during his career.
His widow, Jeannine Russell, sat courtside and tearfully acknowledged the ovation from the fans during a third-quarter timeout.
The 76ers host Milwaukee on Thursday. The Celtics open a three-game stretch Friday in Miami.
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