Part III of a three-part series
In the first two parts of this three-part season preview, I discussed the impact of the Celtics’ offseason moves and identified some things for fans to look for in the season ahead. In this final installment, I’ll point out some specific games worth keeping your eye on.
Over the past six years, the Celtics have played what seems like a full seasons’ worth of big games. This year it’s not likely that team will be involved many season-defining or playoff-altering matchups. However, here are ten games that could represent meaningful benchmarks or hold some symbolic significance.
Wednesday, October 30 @ Toronto
Opening Night! The Celtics square off against the Raptors in a game north of the border that officially marks the beginning of the Brad Stevens era. Less than two weeks away, it is still unclear what the starting lineup will be but it is certain that injured point guard Rajon Rondo won’t be part of it. While it’s unlikely that the team we see at the end of this season will bear much resemblance to what we see opening night, these first impressions will set the tone for the early part of the schedule.
Monday, November 25 @ Charlotte
The Celtics will be facing Michael Jordan’s Bobcats in the last game of a 6 game in 10 night stretch with 5 of the 6 on the road. This is the type of game that tests even a veteran squad’s resolve and it will be interesting to see how the young Celtics respond. It will say a lot about what to expect from a Brad Stevens team if the they can maintain focus and effort in situations like this.
Tuesday, December 3vs. Milwaukee in Boston
This game could feature the return of Rajon Rondo from last season’s devastating ACL injury. It will be difficult to get a true read on the ultimate destiny of the 2013-2014 Celtics, until Rondo is back manning the point at full speed. It is too much to expect a return to all-star form right out the game but the sight of the Celtics’ best player back in the Green will be a welcome one.
Wednesday, December 11 vs. the LA Clippers in Boston
Former head coach Doc Rivers returns to Boston for the first time since his defection to the west coast. He brings a stacked Clippers squad into the Garden to face the team he quit on last June. It’s anyone’s guess what kind of reception he gets from Celtics fans when the starting lineups are introduced.
Friday, December 13 vs. the NY Knicks in Boston
This game marks Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks’ first visit to Boston since last spring’s first round playoff matchup. That series ended in six games after the Knicks withstood a furious fourth quarter comeback to close out the Celtics. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley, the architects of that 20-0 run, will be looking to prove that display was a glimpse of the future rather than the last gasp of the Celtics’ Big Three past.
Saturday, January 11 @ Portland
The Celtics visit the Rose Garden in the last game of a six games in eight nights western swing. Extended west coast trips have a way of either galvanizing, or compromising, the unity of a team. This game will be a good checkpoint on the progress that Coach Brad Stevens has made in establishing the right type of culture for the rebuilding franchise.
Friday, January 17 vs the LA Lakers in Boston
The NBA’s two marquee franchises are both undergoing reconstruction. The Lakers could have Kobe Bryant back in time for this matchup but are still expected, like the Celtics, to be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. This game should provide a fascinating comparison of where each team is in the process of returning to prominence.
Sunday, January 26 vs Brooklyn in Boston
Most fans already have this game circled on their calendars. The second of four matchups between the teams this season, it marks the return of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Garden. Fans will no doubt show their love and appreciation for the veterans that led the Celtics to banner number 17. It will be an emotional night for everyone, even if the game itself is an afterthought.
Wednesday, March 19 vs Miami in Boston
Lebron James comes to Boston to face the franchise that was once the benchmark that he fought to reach and the obstacle he needed to overcome. Back to back championships have flipped the script and now the Celtics must look at the Heat as their aspirational goal. Certainly the Celtics will have a long way to go to reach that goal by the time this game rolls around, but it will serve as a good reference point for just how long that journey might be.
Wednesday, April 16 vs Washington in Boston
The curtain comes down on the 2013-2014 season with a home game against a Washington Wizards team expected to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot this season. Will the Celtics similarly be fighting for a spot in the playoffs or will they be counting ping-pong balls? What will the roster look like at this point? How many of the young players will have established themselves by seasons end? Whatever the questions are coming into this season; we’ll get our answers.