By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Celtics have reinvented themselves on the fly.
With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford departing as free agents, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the quick and successful pivot to Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. Given the sudden uncertainty that came with the departures of the former, it’s about as good as Ainge and Co. could have played their summer.
Whether or not it’s enough to catapult the C’s to that next level — they went back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals before falling in the second round this past season — remains to be seen.
But they finally have a schedule to their name.
Here are some obvious must-watch games and thoughts on the Green’s 82-game slate…
That list begins with two obvious must-watch contests: the season opening meeting against the Sixers on Oct. 23 and home opener against the Raptors on Oct. 25.
The season opener in Philly will give the Celtics their first look at Al Horford since No. 42 decided to opt out of the final year of his contract with Boston and join their top rival. You can expect plenty of heat between these two teams, both of whom are still looking to take that next step since being anointed the East’s “next great team” three years ago. Then comes a home opener against the defending champion Raptors. Now, the Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard and didn’t replace him with any marquee free agent (I’m not sure it’s possible to replace somebody as talented as Leonard), so this season series is much more winnable for the C’s, but these teams always tend to put some great games together.
Bonus: It’s about as emotionally engaging a one-two as a regular season can get for Boston, and continues with the fourth game of the season coming against a Bucks squad that knocked them out in the second round last spring.
From there, the schedule rolls on with some friendly and not-so-friendly reunions.
New Celtic guard Kemba Walker will have his first meeting against the Hornets on Nov. 7 in Charlotte. Given Walker’s desire to remain in Charlotte (the Hornets were not willing to make Walker a super-max player and go into the luxury tax), you’d have to imagine that he’ll be received well by the Hornet fanbase. It will also be Terry Rozier’s first game against the Celtics since the sign-and-trade that sent him to Charlotte with a new four-year deal.
But after the warm and fuzzies of Walker in Charlotte and Rozier against his former club, a more polarizing relationship will take center stage, as Kyrie Irving is slated to make his return to Boston on Nov. 27. It will be Irving’s first time in Boston since deciding to leave as a free agent in July, just nine months after telling a packed TD Garden that he planned on staying with Boston on a long-term deal. (I don’t think they will have forgotten that one.) The Celtics and Nets will then reconvene two days later, this time in Brooklyn, to complete the home-and-home. The best part?
These games are sandwiched around Thanksgiving.
“I don’t celebrate that sh*t, f*ck Thanksgiving.” - Kyrie Irving when someone said Happy Thanksgiving as he was leaving his media scrum.— Clevis Murray (@ClevisMurray) November 22, 2018
Oh, how I love The NBA.
Other head-to-heads of note?
Isaiah Thomas makes his return to TD Garden as a Wizard on Nov. 13.
The Celtics will take on the Warriors on the road on Nov. 15, though that’ll likely be the Steph Curry and Draymond Green show with Klay Thompson recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. Less than a week after that, the Celtics will get their first look at Doc Rivers’ new-look Clippers with Leonard and Paul George on Nov. 20 at the Staples Center. It’s part of a five-game road swing that also features stops in Sacramento, Phoenix, and Denver.
The Celtics will once again play on Christmas Day, this time against the Raptors (in Toronto) at 12 p.m. on Dec. 25.
Zion Williamson and the Pelicans come to town on Jan. 11, while the Lakers’ one-two of Anthony Davis and LeBron James will come to Boston on Jan. 20. The Warriors visit Boston just 10 days after that.
February will come with two meetings against the Rockets, who have swapped out Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, with the Green in Houston on Feb. 11 before a home meeting against the duo on Feb. 29.
NOTES AND RANDOM THOUGHTS
- One thing I love about this schedule? The lack of head-to-heads between the Bruins and Celtics (and Patriots). By my count, the Bruins and Celtics play on the same day 27 times this season, but have just 17 direct conflicts (start times within an hour of one another). It feels like a drastic step back from last year’s dueling schedules, which had the Celtics and Bruins battling for the same eyeballs about 82 times in total.
- Speaking of not having to pick between the Bruins and Celtics: If you’re big on rivalries and sitting on your ass, do I have a day for you– Friday, Nov. 15. It’s on that Friday night that you’ll have the Bruins and Maple Leafs squaring off at 7 p.m. in Toronto, and then the Celtics going against the Warriors at 10:30 p.m. Order an extra pizza, maybe some wings, and use that hour-long break between games to recharge.
- Another night of interest in Boston sports: Sunday, Dec. 1. You’ll have the Celtics against the Knicks at 3:30 p.m. at MSG, the Bruins hosting the Canadiens at 7 p.m. at the Garden, and the Patriots going against the Texans in Houston at 8:25 p.m. It’s the only triple-header of the season. There’s the possibility of the trifecta striking on Saturday, Jan. 11, though, should the Patriots host the Saturday night game in the divisional round of the playoffs.
- I’ve already found the time of year we’re going to lose our minds about this team. Following the league’s All-Star Break, the Celtics have a nine-day stretch with road games against the T’Wolves, Lakers, Blazers, and Jazz before a Saturday night home head-to-head with the Rockets. That game against the Jazz is the second leg of a back-to-back that begins in Portland the night before, too. There’s a real possibility that the C’s go 1-4 during that stretch, and will look to snap out of that potential funk against… Kyrie Irving and the Nets. The takes are going to be fiery.
- The NBA has made it a point to reduce the wear-and-tear, with fewer back-to-back sets and earlier start times. But the Celtics’ schedule is still an absolute grind, especially towards the end. In March alone, the Celtics will have 15 games in 29 days, including three back-to-backs and four three-in-four sets. If you’re battling for seeding as one of the East’s middle of the pack contenders, there’s a good chance that rest nights will be few and far between.