Although the Celtics took three of four against their bitter rivals last season, Philly were the heavy favourites ahead of the opening night encounter. Walker, signed to replace Kyrie Irving as scorer and point guard, couldn’t impact the game sufficiently. The Sixers’ defence may turn out to be the best in the NBA, and it’s a very different unit from the one that Walker scored 60 against last season.
Rookie Matisse Thybulle was a nuisance, if overeager at times. His long arms troubled Walker, even when the former Charlotte Hornet appeared to have created space. Thybulle’s block from behind on Walker was indicative of his aggressive approach on defence – the late-first-round selection could be a major asset for Brett Brown this term.
Josh Richardson’s length made it hard for Walker to get a clear look. On the odd occasion Walker’s handles got him enough separation to drive into the paint, he was quickly surrounded by limbs from all angles. The Sixers defended the paint well – Walker was drowned in much bigger humans as he tried to get to the basket.
His 12 points in over 34 minutes reflected a quiet night for the All-Star guard. He turned the ball over thrice and managed just two assists. Nights like these aren’t too surprising as he settles into the team, however, and there will be few defences as well set up to nullify Walker as this Sixers team. On another night, a couple more of his threes fall (he went one-for-six from downtown) and his line looks a fair bit prettier.
The Celtics will be disappointed to lose, and it wasn’t an ideal start for Walker (particularly while Irving was dropping 50 for the Nets). It was always going to be a challenging evening, though, and it was frustrating rather than disastrous for Walker. The main concern will be registering just two assists.