76ers begin challenging road trip in Boston

BOSTON — Brett Brown raised some eyebrows the other day when he said, “I think our starting five is the best starting five in the game.”

Tuesday, with the country watching as part of the NBA’s holiday package, coach Brown’s Philadelphia 76ers and that starting five will be on display nationally when they face the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

The Celtics opened the season with a 105-87 victory over the Sixers in Boston. But that was well before Philly made a blockbuster deal for Jimmy Butler, allowing the Sixers to add Butler to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as a new big three.

Saturday night, the Sixers pounded the Toronto Raptors 126-101 with Embiid scoring 27 points, their second straight win and third in the last four games. It raised their season record to 22-12.

Now, Philly hits the road for five straight, playing in Boston before heading west.

“All you have to do is look at what happens starting tonight,” Brown said before Saturday night’s win. “As a team, we have a gift exchange tomorrow and then we all fly the following day to play the Boston Celtics in the Boston Garden, and everybody gets our memories of playing them recently in the playoffs and the first game on opening night.

“Then you hit the road with the team and we’re all together and then you jump into the road trip and you see who we’re playing over there.”

They will visit Utah, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix through the New Year. A trip to the west is never fun for any Eastern Conference team.

The Sixers see Boston first in the latest renewal of one of the NBA’s top rivalries.

The Celtics held a pair of team meetings following their third straight loss — the last two at home — Friday night. The Celtics then came out and, with Al Horford and Marcus Morris back in the lineup, cruised past the Charlotte Hornets 109-103 Sunday night.

The first meeting was after Friday night’s game. The second was Saturday, coach Brad Stevens saying, “A lot of those meetings start off like Festivus, then they end with like hugs, right? So it’s just like any other family meeting.”

Stevens said he liked the way his players handled the meetings.

“There’s never a right or wrong time,” he said. “Ultimately, if you’re on a team with 15 people that have good intentions and are willing to share what they’re thinking, what they’re seeing, and what they’re feeling, that’s a pretty good place to start.

“Those are the moments in coaching that you can’t explain. That’s what it’s all about, if it’s well-intentioned and if it’s not off the rails. And it was the furthest from that.”

And then came a cleansing win Sunday to improve the record to 19-13.

Asked if his team was looser following the meetings, Stevens said, “I don’t know. I mean, I said, the whole deal was really well-intentioned, and it was a really — you look back — we’ll look back on it as a great experience. Because it was a bunch of really high-performing players in there just really being transparent, young human beings, and I think that’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of.

“So, whether that affects how the ball goes in or not, how much looser you look on the bench, I don’t know. But it was a — it was a good experience, and I think that that’s part of a team’s journey.”

Morris, talking about the meetings and how important they might have been, said, “It was very important. I wish we would have had it not after the game so we wouldn’t have to answer a whole bunch of questions about it. But it happens. For a team that’s trying to accomplish something, as we are, I think it was very beneficial for us.”