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October 08, 2023

Instant observations: Tyrese Maxey, Jaden Springer shine as Sixers fall to Celtics in preseason opener

Philadelphia's young guards led the way on Sunday.

As most of the Philadelphia sports world watched the Eagles outlast the Los Angeles Rams to maintain their undefeated start, the Sixers and Boston Celtics began their preseason slates inside TD Garden Sunday evening. Boston won the meaningless game 114-106. 

Joel Embiid, James Harden, De'Anthony Melton and Furkan Korkmaz were all sidelined. Ten Sixers saw first-half action: Tyrese Maxey (19 minutes), Tobias Harris (16), Paul Reed (15), Kelly Oubre Jr. (13), P.J. Tucker (12), Danuel House Jr. (10), Patrick Beverley (nine), Danny Green (nine), Mo Bamba (nine) and Jaden Springer (six).

With Embiid and Harden out, Maxey shouldered the brunt of the scoring load and notched 13 of the Sixers' first 17 points. He buried a pair of pull-up triples, swiped Jayson Tatum for a transition and-one, drew a foul on a pull-up against Al Horford and knocked down a midrange jumper. 

The fourth-year guard tallied 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting, played incredibly confident and flew around the floor in Philadelphia's new-look, motion-heavy offense, garnering plenty of touches with a head of steam rather than initiating himself. I always felt Doc Rivers didn't weaponize his speed enough schematically. If Sunday is any indication, that will be much less of an issue with Nick Nurse in town now. 

Various Sixers praised Nurse's egalitarian offense recently and it was on display in this one. Maxey, Beverley, Harris, House and Oubre all orchestrated possessions in the first half, while Tucker and Reed also handled the ball occasionally. 

The full spectrum of the Kelly Oubre Jr. Experience revealed itself offensively in the first half. He scored a couple times out of the pick-and-roll, including once against Jrue Holiday, converted an and-one on a cut and dunk, missed a contested pull-up jumper in transition and sidestepped out of an open 3 and into a contested, missed one to end the second quarter. 

Oubre's offensively versatility can clearly provide a scoring punch off the bench, but the decision-making threatens to quell his impact, as it did periodically Sunday. The veteran wing recorded seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Embiid and Harden both resting make it tough to differentiate between what may be real changes and what are responses to their absences. But the Sixers applied loads of ball pressure to extend the Boston Celtics' offense away from the hoop on Sunday and Nurse has a reputation for aggressive defenses.

At times, it ground Boston to a halt, like when Bamba blocked a Sam Hauser three midway through the first quarter. Other times, that aggression sparked breakdowns, like when Oubre tried to deny off the ball and allowed a back cut for a dunk. 

Over the past three seasons, the Sixers were pretty tepid about bringing nail help (around the middle of the free-throw line) on drives, which was a hallmark of Nurse's Toronto teams. Nail help seems to be part of the scheme this year. Maxey and Springer both nabbed steals helping one pass away, though Philadelphia also conceded a slew of open threes to the Celtics. That's the ripple effect of such a tactic.

Springer didn't enter the game until midway through the second quarter, but made his mark and started the third quarter in place of Tucker, who called it an early night. The former Tennessee Volunteer canned two spot-up threes, thrived as a cutter and offensive rebounder, navigated screens effectively and met Jayson Tatum at the rim for a rude rejection.

Although it's unclear whether Springer will see consistent minutes, the question has always been about how he finds offensive contributions in an off-ball role to complement his impressive defense. Among cutting, shooting and crashing the glass, he was pretty comfortable doing so in his 2023-24 debut. 

He and the Sixers will continue their preseason tour Wednesday inside Wells Fargo Center against the Celtics at 7 p.m.

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