Celtics

Celtics, Sixers set to renew rivalry on opening night and Christmas Day

Celtics, Sixers set to renew rivalry on opening night and Christmas Day

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics will go into this season as one of the NBA's must-see teams.

Celtics fans won't have to wait long to see them in action as Boston will face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first game of the NBA's 2018-19 season at the TD Garden on Oct. 16 at 8 p.m.

That game will be followed by a Western Conference tilt between the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Boston's opening night matchup with Philadelphia will be the first of what's shaping up to be a highly-anticipated series of games between these two Eastern Conference heavyweights, who met in the second round of the playoffs last season.

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Being the first game of the regular season is certainly a big deal for any team, a clear indication of how a franchise is perceived not only in their respective market but also throughout the NBA landscape.

But an even more telling measuring stick lies in the opportunity to play in front of a national audience on Christmas Day, something the Celtics will once again do this year.

And the opponent?

Those same opening-night Sixers, who are considered by many as the biggest threat to Boston and its pursuit of Eastern Conference supremacy.

Boston won three of the four regular-season matchups last season against the Sixers and only needed five games to finish off Philly in the playoffs.

But as that playoff series wore on, it was clear that these two franchises, once bitter rivals in the East, were trending towards that bad blood returning.

Go back to their regular season matchup in London in January, a 114-103 Celtics comeback victory after falling behind by as many as 22 points.

One of the more memorable moments in that game came in the fourth quarter when Ben Simmons set a hard screen on Marcus Morris that sent the Celtics small forward falling to the ground.

Morris immediately jumped to his feet and began charging towards Simmons, resulting in players from both teams standing in between the two, to prevent the incidence from escalating into something bigger.

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And during their playoff series, Simmons was once again at the center of attention.

After struggling in Boston's Game 1 win, Simmons said afterwards that he needed to be "more aggressive" in the next game.

But the Celtics had other plans, limiting him to just one point in 31 minutes of court time which was more than enough for Boston to win and take a commanding 2-0 series lead and for the social media trolls out there, resulting in one of the more memorable memes of the NBA season.

Joel Embiid is coming off an All-Star season and has talked both publicly and privately about believing he'll be in the league MVP conversation this season.

But the Celtics' defense against Embiid was a multi-pronged approach last season, and the two key pieces in that attack -- Al Horford and Aron Baynes -- are both back in the fold.

Other games of note on Christmas Day include the LeBron James-led Los Angleles Lakers taking on the Warriors; the Milwaukee Bucks and their MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo facing the New York Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis at Madison Square Garden; also, the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers will play, and the Oklahoma City Thunder will square off against the Houston Rockets who now include former Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony.

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Kemba Walker injury: Danny Ainge gives update on Celtics star's knee

Kemba Walker injury: Danny Ainge gives update on Celtics star's knee

Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker has missed four consecutive games with a left knee injury, including Wednesday night's 114-103 win over the Utaz Jazz on the road.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge gave an update on Walker's knee during his weekly Thursday morning appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich" show, and he doesn't seem too worried about the situation.

“We’re just taking it day by day, and we’re being very cautious with Kemba,” Ainge said. “We feel like we need Kemba to be his best self, and right now, we don’t think that he can sustain what he wants to do. But we are confident that his knee is going to be fine and that he’ll be ready to go at some point in the near future.”

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A lot has been made of Walker playing in the 2020 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16. Walker was among the game's starters for Team Giannis, and he played nearly the entire fourth quarter as the matchup became ultra competitive. Ainge downplayed the impact playing in Chicago has had on Walker's absence.

“I think the All-Star Game is a little bit of an overblown situation,” Ainge said. “I mean, if he plays 20 minutes or he plays 29, I’m not sure it really makes that much of a difference, especially since it’s one game over a six or seven-day period. So, I don’t really have any regrets about that. I think that this has been an issue that has been lingering a little bit from before the All-Star Game and I think that nobody really knew to what extent, and we’re just being really cautious with him right now.”

The Celtics are fortunate to be in a situation where they don't need Walker to rush back. The C's are building a comfortable distance between themselves and the No. 4 seed, so it's looking increasingly likely Boston will earn at least the No. 3 seed. Given the Toronto Raptors' difficult schedule to finish the regular season, getting the No. 2 seed also is a pretty realistic goal for the Celtics. 

It's not crazy to be a little concerned about Walker. He is one of the team's most important players, and the Celtics no doubt are at their best when he's in the lineup. The Celtics taking a cautious approach is absolutely the right decision. It's much better for Walker to miss games in February than be sidelined in April and May when the playoffs are in full swing.

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Kendrick Perkins gives Celtics guard Marcus Smart the ultimate compliment

Kendrick Perkins gives Celtics guard Marcus Smart the ultimate compliment

There's little doubt Marcus Smart is the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics.

Whether it's great leadership, All-NBA caliber defense, 100 percent effort and hustle on almost every play, or carrying the load offensively when needed, Smart gives the Celtics a boost in so many areas. 

Smart's presence was felt at both ends of the floor in Boston's 114-103 win over the Utaz Jazz on the road Wednesday night.

His defense was fantastic. Jazz players shot 4-for-12 from the field, including a lackluster 1-for-8 mark from 3-point range versus Smart. He also made an impact offensively with 17 points, including a couple clutch baskets in the fourth quarter. He had nine assists, too.

Smart's all-around play received a special shotout on Twitter from former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who paid the C's guard the ultimate compliment.

Well said, Perk.

Smart embodies all of the qualities that have made the Celtics the premier NBA franchise for more than 50 years. His performance at both ends of the court, as well as his leadership, are so valuable to this Celtics team. If the C's make a deep run in the 2020 NBA playoffs, you can bet Smart will be a driving force behind that success.

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