Boston Celtics: 10 Biggest Games on 2012-13 Schedule
Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
"That's all, folks."
After all, the Big Three looked ready to ride off into the sunset, with the contracts of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen expiring and Paul Pierce contemplating retirement. The roster was gutted, and there were no franchise-changing free agents on the market that didn't play the same position as the Celtics' lone star, PG Rajon Rondo.
There seemed to be few avenues to rebuilding the Cs, beyond waiting out the year and hoping a franchise player would waltz into their open arms before Rondo's prime was wasted.
Somehow, GM Danny Ainge took a bucket of spare parts into the garage and emerged with a functional vehicle. It may not be the Ferrari of NBA contenders—depending on your point of view, that would be either the Heat or Lakers—but Boston's squad certainly has a chance to make a deep playoff run.
That means the Celtics' championship window—originally thought to be three years—now enters its sixth season.
And that, in turn, means we can take a look at some of the marquee matchups between the Celtics and rival title contenders.
Keep in mind, there aren't any duplicate teams on this list—so while Ray Allen's January 27 return to the Garden is a huge storyline, consider it covered in the first Heat slide.
Celtics vs. Heat, Oct 30 at 8:00 PM
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
It's a rematch of a glorious Eastern Conference Finals bout, which saw the Cs take a 3-2 series lead but ultimately fall just short of ousting the league's flashiest superteam. It's also the night that Boston's Eastern Conference rivals du jour will get their championship rings.
Not a compelling enough narrative for you? Believe me, there's plenty more.
For starters, it's a rematch against friend-turned-foe Ray Allen.
Allen took his talents—and his Jenga-block ankles—to South Beach in the offseason, defecting to the Heat in a bitter blow to Cs fans.
Benedict Ray will look to show his former team that he has still got his patented three-point stroke, while Jason Terry and the Boston bench will look to show Allen that he has still got his patented matador D.
Unlike most sports rivalries, this one isn't contrived by the fans and media.
There's plenty of bad blood to go around.
This game figures to be an electric introduction to the NBA season.
Look for Rondo and the Cs to come out swinging early.
76ers vs. Celtics, Nov 9 at 7:30 PM
Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
As long as Sixers newcomer Andrew Bynum is healthy enough to play in this game, the first matchup between these two squads figures to be a big one for both teams.
Say what you will about the Carmelo Anthony/Amar'e Stoudemire pairing in Manhattan or the Core Four in Brooklyn—the Celtics have the depth, defensive aptitude and chemistry to beat both boroughs.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, presents a real threat to the Celtics in the divisional race.
Alongside Bynum, the unquestioned best center in the East (apologies to Tyson Chandler), the Sixers have a deep well of talent. They've got major upside at PG (Jrue Holiday), SF (Evan Turner) and off the bench (Dorell Wright, Lavoy Allen).
It will be fascinating to see how Garnett fares against Bynum in the paint and to watch the matchup between Holiday and Rondo.
Paul Pierce, however, will likely just be happy not to have to face Andre Iguodala and his aggressive D anymore.
Thunder vs. Celtics, Nov 23 at 7:30 PM
This will be a meeting of two teams just passing each other in the hallway.
The Celtics—and their aging core—are on the way out, while the Thunder are just getting started.
Oklahoma City surprised the NBA by cooling off a white-hot San Antonio Spurs team in the Western Conference Finals to earn a Finals berth. They struggled mightily against the Heat, who beat them in five games, but last season proved that they're right there as a title contender.
Like LeBron James before him, Kevin Durant just needs a little more NBA seasoning to get things right.
The Cs, meanwhile, will be on a mission to show that the NBA's old guard still hasn't disappeared over the horizon quite yet.
The superstar PG matchup of Rondo and Westbrook will be fascinating to watch. Each player mans the position in drastically different ways—Rondo led the league in assists last year, and Westbrook led all PGs in scoring—but both can count themselves among the top-five point guards in the NBA.
Other storylines to watch are former Celtic Kendrick Perkins' second visit to the TD Garden, and Jeff Green's first matchup against his old team (he missed last year's game due to his heart ailment).
Celtics vs. Nets, Dec 25 at 12:00 PM
Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
Anyone up for Christmas in Brooklyn?
The Nets have a new home at the Barclays Center on Atlantic Avenue, and the Celtics are dropping in for a Yuletide visit.
This won't be the first meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals—that will take place on November 15—but it will be the highest profile, part of a five-game Christmas Day slate.
By this point in the year, we'll start to learn whether the Nets are true East contenders or just an amalgam of big-name players; they'll be looking to make a big statement in this game.
Boston, in turn, will look to reassert its dominance of the Atlantic division.
It will be interesting to watch the matchup between former-Celtic Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. Pierce had a strong series against Johnson's Atlanta Hawks last season, despite suffering a knee injury during a morning shootaround prior to Game 4.
Celtics vs. Knicks, Jan 7 at 7:30 PM
Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
What slideshow about big Boston sports matchups doesn't feature a New York-Boston clash?
Still, any game that features matchups like Pierce against Carmelo Anthony and Garnett against Amar'e Stoudemire figures to be a great game.
There have been a lot of good matchups between these two Atlantic teams in the recent past. In last year's season opener, the Celtics made a huge second-half comeback but fell just short at the end, with the Knicks winning 106-104 behind Anthony's 37 points.
The Knicks will have Madison Square Garden rocking, and the Celtics will hope to come out quick in this one to silence the crowd in the first of several meetings between these teams.
Watch this matchup closely—it may have major playoff implications.
Hornets vs. Celtics, Jan 16 at 8:00 PM
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Why the New Orleans Hornets?
Well, the biggest reason is the guy in the picture.
Austin Rivers, son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is currently employed by the Big Easy's squad—the Hornets drafted Rivers with the 10th pick in the 2012 draft.
How much more compelling a narrative could there be than watching a coach game plan against his own son? Doc will probably need to take note of a few of his son's tendencies from the driveway blacktop.
The Cs will also get a shot to check out the NBA's top pick—Olympian Anthony Davis.
If Boston hopes to win this one, they'd better hope Davis' game isn't as formidable as his unibrow (which the top pick trademarked before entering the NBA).
Clippers vs. Celtics, Feb 3 at 1:00 PM
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
Last year's lockout cost Cs fans the chance to check out Lob City in the TD Garden.
They'll get that chance this year, when the Clippers visit Boston in early February.
Boston will finally get to see Blake Griffin up close and personal, and they'll also be treated to a matchup between Rondo and the NBA's best point guard, Chris Paul.
This game doesn't have high stakes with respect to playoff tiebreakers (it's out of conference, after all) but it's sure to be a fun game to watch. Fans in attendance will get a live chance to see how the Celtics defend the Clippers' alley-oops to Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
It's also Super Bowl Sunday, so the afternoon basketball matchup should get some additional viewership from die-hard sports fans who are fixed firmly to their lucky spot on the couch.
Of course, there's an even bigger matchup with a certain other Los Angeles team looming later that week.
Lakers vs. Celtics, Feb 7 at 8:00 PM
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
On February 7, Superman returns.
Pretty catchy film tagline, right?
Well, it's also the biggest reason why the Lakers trip to Boston is a huge game for the Cs.
The Lakers, like the Cs, looked to be a team on the decline after the Thunder eliminated them in five games last postseason. Then, they reloaded in a big way this offseason.
The Lakers brought Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to LaLa Land, all while retaining Pau Gasol.
They're as fearsome as ever, and the Celtics will get a chance to prove they can hold up to the class of the NBA when these two teams face off at TD Garden.
Oh, and all that without mentioning that these are the league's banner franchises, with 33 championships between them.
I won't even get into their longstanding rivalry, except to mention the Broadway musical about Laker legend Magic Johnson and Celtic great Larry bird.
With regards to the game, we should see great ball movement between the two teams, as the NBA's reigning No. 1 and 2 assist leaders face off in Rondo and Nash.
As for Howard?
The Cs don't have Perkins to body him up, but they may have another secret Kryptonite for Superman.
Bulls vs. Celtics, Feb 13 at 7:30 PM
Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
I picked the last of Boston's four games against Chicago because it's the one that Derrick Rose is most likely to play in.
Of course, it's unknown if he'll be available even then.
Bulls GM Gar Forman claims he's "optimistic [Rose] will be back at some point this year," but he won't know for certain until the doctors clear him to play after Rose is fully recovered from reconstructive ACL surgery.
If he's back in time to lead the Bulls this year, this might just be a huge matchup. Chicago emerged from the 2011-12 regular season as the East's top seed, but lost to Philadelphia in seven games after Rose went down.
A healthy Bulls team is a huge threat, and that makes this the kind of game that sets the tone for the playoffs. Even in February, this game could have major implications.
Another big storyline, as always, is the return of former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, now head coach of the Bulls.
Thibodeau is in his third season as Bulls head coach, and he has been wildly successful in his time there. In his first year, he won Coach of the Year, and last year he finished as the runner-up.
Pacers vs. Celtics, Apr 16 at 8:00 PM
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
The Pacers and Celtics might well be jostling for a high playoff seed come the end of the regular season.
While there's a chance—as with any end-of-season game—that this head-to-head will mean nothing, there's also a chance it might decide playoff matchups.
The Pacers have a strong, young team headlined by one of the league's few elite big men in Roy Hibbert. While they lack a dominant scorer to take over the end of games—whatever happened to Danny Granger?—they've got a talented roster that includes 22-year-old swingman Paul George and low-post scorer David West.
West, who spurned the Celtics prior to last season to sign with the Pacers, won't be looked upon kindly by the home crowd.
If rookie Jared Sullinger has earned a rotation spot on the Celtics, look for him to be matched up on West quite a bit in this game.