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LAS VEGAS – Clutch offense and strong team defense helped the Celtics to overcome 40 points from Philadelphia’s Furkan Korkmaz and down the Sixers 95-89 Friday night. The contest marked the opening game of each team’s slate in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Boston outscored Philadelphia 10-2 during the final minutes to capture the win. Guerschon Yabusele scored five of his 16 points during that stretch, which included a game-clinching 3-pointer from the right wing that beat the shot clock and gave the Celtics a 93-87 advantage.
Philadelphia’s inability to score down the stretch was a microcosm of the struggles it experienced all night. The Celtics swallowed up every Sixers player not named Korkmaz, who shot 8-for-14 from long distance and 12-for-15 from the free-throw line; the rest of the Sixers combined to shoot a woeful 31.0 percent from the field.
The Celtics offense was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Boston shot 48.6 percent from the field while seven players made at least three field goals.
Yabusele and fellow sophomore Semi Ojeleye were at the forefront of the C’s scoring. Each player accounted for 16 points while making six field goals apiece. Ojeleye scored 13 of his points during the first half, while Yabusele came through in the clutch by scoring 10 of his points during the second half.
Friday’s opener marked each player’s first chance to play in an expanded role for the Celtics. Ojeleye was a 3-and-D specialist for Boston last season, while Yabusele played the majority of his minutes in Maine with the Red Claws. With the Summer C’s, however, they are two of the featured offensive options on the team.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Ojeleye said after the win. “That’s why I’m here, to try to expand my game and get more comfortable so that when the season comes I can try to add that to my game and try to help offensively as well as defensively.”
While Ojeleye and Yabusele helped the team at both ends Friday night, Boston’s victory didn’t come with any sort of ease. The two teams went back and forth throughout the game, with neither side pulling ahead by more than 11 points during the contest. The C’s led by 11 early on in the third quarter, but by the time the fourth rolled around, that lead has been trimmed to six, at 69-63.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle that featured three ties and four lead changes. Boston fell behind 84-80 after Korkmaz nailed his final 3-pointer of the game, but the C’s then responded to tie the game at 85-85 before finishing the night on their game-clinching, 10-2 run.
“We showed a resilience,” said Celtics Summer League head coach Jay Larranaga. “When we got down, we just kept playing.”
In addition to the team’s resiliency, Larranaga also commended its professional nature. Hassan Martin, who scored eight of Boston’s final 18 points after not recording a point during the first three quarters of the game, was at the forefront of that march.
“I think it’s the message we said in the locker room,” Larranaga said of what Martin’s contribution meant to the team. “We talked about: This Summer League is very similar to an NBA season, where you don’t know when your opportunity is going to come, but it’s going to come. Hassan was ready. Just a great example of professionalism and just always being ready when you’re called on.”
Boston likely would have lost this game without Martin’s contributions, and with that in mind, there may have been no better path for the Celtics to log their opening-game victory. Their players answered the bell when they were called upon, they hit clutch shots, and they defended at a high level.
That’s the recipe for success during Summer League action – a recipe Boston has now seen work, and one it will aim to carry into its next contest at 11 p.m. EST Saturday night against the Denver Nuggets.