BOSTON — The congratulatory messages Jayson Tatum received all summer did not serve to remind him how much the Boston Celtics achieved on their way to winning the franchise’s first conference championship in 12 years. For every well-wish he received, Tatum grew sicker and sicker about could have been last June if not for his team’s fade in the NBA Finals and the Golden State Warriors winning the championship on the same court that the new NBA season would start tonight.
Tatum and the rest of the Celtics sent their first message of the season loud and clear, dispatching another Eastern Conference contender, the Philadelphia 76ers, 126-117 at TD Garden as the curtain was officially raised on the 2022-23 NBA season. Tatum, along with superstar-in-the-making Jaylen Brown, torched the Sixers for 35 points apiece as the Celtics shot a blistering 56 percent from the field in going away with the win.
The brisk fall air outside of the arena was nothing compared the ice cold feeling that every member of the Celtics felt during the summer, having a magical run in the second half of the season — one that included winning 33 of their final 43 games of the regular season before defeating the Brooklyn Nets, the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat to win the Eastern Conference — end after blowing a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. All the Celtics fans and supporters of the team’s players wanted to do after the brush with NBA Finals glory was to praise their heroes.
All Tatum wanted was to stop hearing about it.
“I’m glad the season has started so we can, in a sense, stop talking about [last season],” said Tatum, who added 12 rebounds and was 13-for-20 from the field against the Sixers. “It was a tough summer for myself, everybody. Everywhere I went, somebody mentioned, ‘Good job in the Finals. Next year. You guys did well.’ They meant it in a good way, but it’s just a reminder that you lost. We got to the top, and we didn’t get over the hump.”
Before officially turning the page to the new season, the Celtics held a pregame ceremony honoring the legendary Bill Russell, who passed away in July. Amongst the group of speakers and performers who spoke during the ceremony was Brown, who gave an unrehearsed, passionate speech in tribute to the Celtics legend who won 11 NBA championships.
Before officially turning the page to the new season, the Celtics held a pregame ceremony honoring the legendary Bill Russell, who passed away in July. Amongst the group of speakers and performers who spoke during the ceremony was Brown, who after a breakout season in helping the Celtics win the East was th subject of trade rumors, specifically when Nets star Kevin Durant had initially demanded a trade after the season was over. Still wearing the Celtics green, Brown gave an unrehearsed, passionate speech in tribute to Russell, the Hall of Fame legend and civil rights activist who won 11 NBA championships, all with Boston.
“How do you figure out a group of words that encapsulate what Bill Russell’s legacy meant to me, to the city, and to so many others?,” Brown said after the game. “It was tough to find the words.
“Tonight was a special night,” Brown added. “It was amazing to be able to play in his honor. Bill Russell was a legend. He was much taller than he was in person just because of what he stood for, what he represented, so may he rest in peace.”
Russell’s last game in the NBA was Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals and in his role as player/coach that year, Boston defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to won the title. The Celtics current coach, Joe Mazzulla, won in his first regular-season game as a head coach in the NBA, taking over the Celtics job after erstwhile head coach Ime Udoka was suspended by the team just before the start of the season for what the team called “violations of team policies,” believed to have stemmed from an inappropriate relationship that Udoka had with a female staff member of the team. A behind-the-bench assistant coach last season, Mazzulla was given the keys to the team after Udoka’s punishment and, before that, top assistant Will Hardy leading to take the Utah Jazz job. As questions rained down on the Celtics about whether the team would be impacted negatively by having a new voice lead them in a critical juncture of their development, the confidence that the Celtics’ brass and players had in Mazzulla, before and after tonight’s victory, was a big step forward in helping to keep the Celtics’ championship plans moving forward.
I’m grateful to the players for the relationship that we have,” Mazzulla said. “And I’m really grateful that they trust me and we trust each other and that they were able to show that type of buy in. So, when we do things together, we have a huge opportunity.”