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If this were last year, the 10-point lead the Boston Celtics had heading into the fourth quarter Tuesday night wouldn’t have felt so comfortable.

Blown double-digit leads were the norm early for last year’s team. These Celtics are different. It’s only one game, but they seem to have picked up from where they left off last year after an ugly start. They’re already ahead of where they were a year ago, and that’s a scary thing for the rest of the NBA.

The Boston Celtics played like they were in midseason form

Boston Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla looks on during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on October 18, 2022, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.

The Celtics are armed with two young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. In Tuesday’s season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, they played like stars. They each scored 35 points as the Celtics pulled out a 126-117 victory.

This year, the Celtics are a much deeper team than they were last season, and it showed. Veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon, acquired in the offseason to shore up the bench, had 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Grant Williams went 5-for-5, including making all three of his three-point attempts, to finish with 15 points.

As a team, they shot 56% and outrebounded the Sixers 36-31, despite playing without center Robert Williams III. Williams is expected to miss the first three months after having knee surgery.

The Celtics overcame an early deficit and took charge in the second half after the game was tied at the half, 61-61. Boston looked like the more composed team down the stretch, building the lead up to double digits in the fourth quarter.

“Pace is the virtue of this team,” Grant Williams said postgame, per ESPN. “We have a bunch of guys that can bring it, a bunch of guys that are playmakers for one another, and we trust everybody. We trust everybody to make the right decision, to make the right read, to make the right play.”

The Celtics sent a message to the rest of the NBA


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Many oddsmakers have the Celtics as the favorite to win the 2023 championship. Things got a little shaky in the offseason when they suspended coach Ime Udoka for violation of team rules. More adversity came when newly-signed Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in a game in Italy this summer. Robert Williams then underwent surgery.

Tuesday night, Al Horford picked up two quick fouls, and the Celtics still handled Philadelphia center Joel Embiid. Embiid finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds, but Boston newcomers Noah Vonleh and Blake Griffin came off the bench to contain him. The Celtics are deep, hungry, and motivated. They showed all of that Tuesday night.

During the preseason, Celtics players said the goal was to pick up where they left off last year. They ended the regular season on a 32-6 run after starting 25-25. Early on, they struggled to find themselves under Udoka, a first-year coach.

The Celtics are back to dealing with a first-year coach in Joe Mazzulla, who was named interim coach after Udoka’s suspension. Mazzulla, 34, only has head-coaching experience at the Division II college level. Despite the lack of experience, he has the respect of his players.

“He wouldn’t have took any of the credit for tonight, but the thing that I like about Joe and admire about him is that he’s very honest that he doesn’t know everything,” Tatum said. “He wants us to help him out as much as he’s helping us out.

“It’s like we’re in a relationship, and we’re all on the same page and trying to accomplish the same thing. We’re all in this together.”

The Celtics being on the same page from Day 1 is a scary thought for the rest of the NBA.

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