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One man's top 18 games in Celtics' pursuit of Banner 18

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One man's top 18 games in Celtics' pursuit of Banner 18

The Celtics schedule is out and, after crunching the numbers, I’ve whittled it down to the 18 most objectively important games on their quest for Banner 18. Click here for the gallery.

 

Bean: Do the Celtics really have a rival right now?

Bean: Do the Celtics really have a rival right now?

By now you've probably seen that the NBA released its national television schedule and it's got a whole lot of Celtics-76ers. They're playing opening night. They're playing Christmas day. 

This is a clear-cut sign that the league is leaning into Philly-Boston being a thing again, and for good reason. The Celtics are the best team in the East and the 76ers, in addition to arguably being the second-best team in the conference, have young stars to match up with Boston's. It isn't just Boston-Philly. It's Tatum-Simmons. It's history, both franchise-wise and recent trade-wise.

But the best rivalries are the ones that have a back-and-forth. The ones that yield six or seven-game playoff meetings. 

We saw what happened last year when the Celtics played the Sixers in the playoffs. The C's won in five games and they didn't have their two best players. They also didn't have Jaylen Brown for one of the games. 

Neither team made massive upgrades to their roster in the offseason. The only notable change to these two teams is that the team that beat the other without Kyrie Irving will have both Irving and Hayward this season. The Celtics should be so much better than the Sixers. 

Sure, the Sixers have a way of improving, but the Celtics will get better in the same way. Young players improve. Ben Simmons will get better in his third rookie year. Maybe Markelle Fultz should be good enough to get on the court. 

But the same can be said for the C's. Jayson Tatum was a monster by the end of the postseason in his actual rookie year. Jaylen Brown, fresh off a terrible Game 7 against the Cavs, will likely show up to camp hellbent on never missing a shot again. 

And, because it can't be said enough, Gordon Hayward will be there. Even if the C's bring him along slowly, his presence will mean Boston's starting five will have five studs out there. Philly? They'll have two, which is good, but not as good as five.

So yes, this can be a rivalry, even if it's for lack of other options. The Raptors? Please. The Celtics beat them last year without Kyrie. Toronto's gotten better with the addition of Kawhi Leonard, but the Celtics will be better, too. 

Indiana? Ideally, Victor Oladipo continues to develop into a star and the team finds another star to pair with him. That won't happen this year, though. 

Maybe the Celtics can call the Warriors a rival if they can reach the finals over the next couple of years. That's obviously out of the conference, but having an out-of-conference team as your current rival usually means your team is going to the finals.  

The real rival you want for the Celtics is LeBron and the Lakers. You want years of the C's and Lakers meeting in the NBA finals and this group knocking off the king just like the Pierce era Celtics did in '08. In the meantime, the C's will have to settle for a rival that won't beat them much. 

The Boston-Philly games last year were fun. Joel Embiid is unbelievable. Yelling at Ben Simmons to shoot a three is hilarious. Each and every game will be must-watch, even if we'll often be able to predict the outcomes. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE