Ten most anticipated matchups of the Celtics' season
Ten most anticipated matchups of the Celtics' season
BOSTON -- Win or lose, Celtics Nation has never wavered in their support for the Boston Celtics.
But as the Celtics make the surprisingly quick transition from rebuilding to potential contender, well let’s just say the bandwagon is a little -- okay, a lot -- more full going into the season.
Indeed, the Celtics have become a team whose following has increased to the point where they are among the teams this season that’s garnering national attention.
In addition to having 72 of their games on CSN this season, Boston will also have 22 games (12 will be shared with CSN) televised nationally.
The season kicks off with a back-to-back set of games, with the season opener at home against the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 26 and a road contest the following night at Chicago.
Boston’s first trip out West will be in February, a four-game stretch with games at Sacramento (Feb. 8), Portland (Feb. 9), Utah (Feb. 11) and Dallas (Feb. 13).
The Celtics return to the West Coast the following month with five games -- against the Los Angeles Lakers (March 3), Phoenix (March 5), the Los Angeles Clippers (March 6), Golden State (March 8) and Denver (March 10).
You can go up and down the schedule and find plenty of games that will whet the appetite of any Celtics fan, as this season’s Celtics team figures to be among the more widely watched clubs.
Rather than list them all, we take a look at 10 of the most anticipated matchups this season.
10. Lakers matchup (Feb. 3 at TD Garden)
No matter how either team is playing relative to the league standings, there’s always something special when the Lakers and Celtics tip off. But if there was ever year when this matchup doesn’t quite have the luster we’re accustomed to, this would be that year. Kobe Bryant isn’t walking through that door for the Lakers, and when it comes to wins . . . they ain’t coming L.A.’s way either.
9. Every Brooklyn game this season (Oct. 26 at TD Garden; at Brooklyn on Nov. 23 and March 17; April 10 at TD Garden)
Sweeping the Nets would not only improve Boston’s record and thus better position the C's for the postseason, but also deliver the kind of setback to the Nets that could pay off in a big way next spring during the NBA Draft. As part of the 2013 trade with Brooklyn that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn, the Celtics received a number of draft picks that include the option to swap picks in 2017. Boston has already used a pair of picks from the deal to select James Young and most recently, rookie forward Jaylen Brown.
8. Dunn, Thibodeau’s return to Boston (March 15 at TD Garden)
By the time Minnesota shows up at the TD Garden, we’ll have a pretty good idea about how good former Providence star Kris Dunn is, as well as how former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau is handling double-duty as the Timberwolves’ head coach/president of basketball operations. Dunn, selected with the fifth overall pick in June’s NBA draft, was among the players Boston gave thought to selecting with the No. 3 pick before opting to draft Jaylen Brown. Because of the way their respective teams are constructed, Dunn should get more playing time in Minnesota than Brown will here in Boston. But you won’t hear much second-guessing around these parts if Brown can make the most of his role off the bench and the Celtics have one of the better records in the league, which are both realistically possible. And if that's not enough of a reason to come to the game, consider this: it may be the last time Kevin Garnett plays on the parquet.
7. Super Bowl Sunday vs Clippers (Feb. 5 at TD Garden)
While most Green Teamers would love for this to be (current Clipper) Blake Griffin’s first game against his former team, that’s just not likely to happen. Still, it’s a big game because 1) it may very well be Paul Pierce's last time playing at the TD Garden and 2) the Clippers are still one of the league’s best teams – the kind of team Boston has to start defeating in their building if they are to be considered one of the elite clubs of the NBA. And who knows, Tom Brady might be suiting up for a fifth NFL title.
6. Chicago Bulls (at Chicago on October 27; Nov. 2 at TD Garden; at Chicago Feb. 16; March 12 at TD Garden)
One of the most under-rated Big Threes formed this summer takes up residence in the Windy City, with Jimmy Butler now being paired with a pair of former All-Stars in Dwyane Wade and ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo. As Boston tries to assert itself as one of the top teams in the East, you can count on the Bulls being among the teams to present the greatest challenge. With a number of key players new to the Bulls roster, winning the Oct. 27 matchup at Chicago is huge considering it comes at a time when two of the Bulls' key players (Wade and Rondo) will still still adjusting to their new teammates and head coach Fred Hoiberg.
5. Sully’s return to Boston (Dec. 9 at the TD Garden)
Jared Sullinger, Boston’s leading rebounder from a year ago, signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Toronto Raptors after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer (making him an unrestricted free agent). There was pressure on Sullinger last season in Boston to produce because it was indeed a contract year. He now finds himself in a similar situation with Raptors. Don’t be surprised if this game winds up being one of the best Sullinger plays all season.
4. New-look New York Knicks (Nov. 11 at TD Garden; at New York on Dec. 25; Jan. 18 at TD Garden; at New York on April 2)
Derrick Rose. Carmelo Anthony. Joakim Noah. It’s the New York Knicks’ version of a Big Three and some change, with the change being Kristaps Porzingis, who, as we saw during his rookie season, has the potential be a tremendous game-changer for the Knicks. Division titles hold little weight these days with most teams, but New York will certainly look to show that its roster is up to the challenge of competing with the Atlantic Divisions top teams, Toronto and Boston.
3. Reunion time for Horford (Jan. 13 at TD Garden)
Al Horford spent nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. Horford isn’t one to sugarcoat things and pull out the “it’s just another game” card knowing full well, that first meeting against the Hawks will be nothing remotely close to just one of 82 on the regular-season docket. It will be an emotionally charged game for both teams; Horford wanting to find success with his new brothers in arms, and the Hawks wanting to show they can still win without the man who for so many years was the face of the franchise and even more important, their undisputed leader on and off the floor. Fortunately for him, Horford will have plenty of games under his belt with the Celtics prior to seeing his former team.
2. The champs are here (March 1 and April 5 at TD Garden)
Wherever the champs play, it’s always going to be a big deal. And these matchups at the TD Garden will be no exception. The Cavaliers have brought back most of the gang from last season’s title squad and will be poised to be the Eastern Conference’s best team once again with former Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue leading the way. For the Celtics, Cleveland serves as the ultimate measuring stick as to how much have they really grown as a franchise from a club Cleveland swept out of the first round two years ago, to a roster that’s serious about being able to challenge Cleveland for Eastern Conference supremacy.
1. Kevin Durant and the Golden State Superfriends (Nov. 18 at the TD Garden)
The subplots to this game are all over the map, folks. There’s the Kevin Durant saga this summer when not even gazing into Tom Brady’s eyes could lure him to Boston. Celtics players took it personal when he decided to shun them for a Warriors team that 1) was already loaded without him and 2) a team that Boston beat last season and has competed with down to the wire each of the last couple of seasons. For all those reasons (and many more), this will be the most anticipated game on the Celtics schedule this season.