Okafor debuts nicely, but Sixers fall flat

Sixers center Jahlil Okafor finished with 26 points in his NBA debut.
Sam Amico
Sam Amico

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PhelanHoops

Five observations on the 76ers’ 112-95 season-opening loss to the host Celtics on Wednesday night.

1. Boston took advantage of Philadelphia’s miscues with 34 points off 24 turnovers. The Celtics’ bench outscored the Sixers’ by 67-14 count. Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had 27 points in 29 minutes to lead all scorers. The Celtics held Philadelphia to 40.5 percent from the field.

2. Rookie center Jahlil Okafor finished with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting in his NBA debut. Okafor had his way early with Boston’s Tyler Zeller. Celtics coach Brad Stevens then put Jared Sullinger or Amir Johnson on Okafor after Okafor started the game 5-for-5 for 10 points in the first six minutes. The move slowed Okafor. He was able to get position on Zeller, but struggled at times against the bigger Sullinger or Johnson. Okafor committed eight turnovers, which is inexcusable, but he did have a great step through on one Celtic double-team that led to a made 3-pointer. Other than defense, free throw shooting was considered a major weakness in Okafor’s game. Okafor, however, made all six of his attempts, and each attempt had good form.

3. Okafor created most of his own buckets. Only twice did an Okafor bucket come off an assist. Philadelphia’s lack of a creator at point guard was evident this preseason. Starting point guard Isaiah Canaan finished with two assists, but he impacted the game with four 3-pointers en route to 18 points. Sixers coach Brett Brown only had nine healthy guys, so throughout the game Brown would have both point guards, TJ McConnell and Canaan, in the game. Canaan can create his own shot, but he can’t get through the seams like point guards should to create shots for others. Okafor should get easier buckets once Philadelphia finds a guy that can break down a defense from the perimeter.

4. Nerlens Noel finished like he did so many times in the second half of last season, with a double-double. Noel had 14 points and 12 rebounds in 35 minutes. He made 1-of-5 attempts from outside the paint, but his shooting stroke continues to impress. Noel made 4-of-7 from the line; his three misses were Philadelphia’s only misses on foul shots. Noel added three steals and two blocks.

5. Philadelphia lost by 17 points, but one 76er finished with a positive plus-minus — as JaKarr Sampson was effective in 27 minutes. He attacked the basket, made all three free throws and finished with 13 points. Sampson provides physical defense and there are not many guys who play harder than him.

Joe Phelan covers the 76ers for Amico Hoops.