Ranking Celtics' Most Important Games of 2022-23 NBA Regular Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVOctober 20, 2022

Ranking Celtics' Most Important Games of 2022-23 NBA Regular Season

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    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 15: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball against Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the fourth quarter in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 15, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    The tip-off of the 2022-23 NBA season provides a dose of relief for the Boston Celtics.

    The primary talk around the team right now is simply basketball—not the suspension of Ime Udoke or the promotion of interim skipper Joe Mazzulla, and not the latest on Robert Williams III's recovery from knee surgery or any trade speculation for potential roster reshuffling.

    It's just hoops, and the Shamrocks do them right. They certainly looked sharp on opening night, as they downed the championship-minded Philadelphia 76ers by a 126-117 count behind 35 points apiece from All-Star wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

    While that was a big boost right out of the gate, the Celtics will face more daunting tasks down the road. With that in mind, let's spotlight and rank—based on overall significance—the top three tilts on their schedule.

3. Dec. 4: at Brooklyn Nets

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    Brooklyn - April 25: The Celtics Jaylen Brown and Al Horford double team the Nets Kevin Durant in the first quarter. The Boston Celtics visited the Brooklyn Nets for Game Four of their first round NBA playoff series at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY on April 25, 2022. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
    Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    Only 10 of the Celtics' first 23 games are set to take place outside of TD Garden.

    This contest, against a Nets club with an ignitable offense led by 7-foot fire-baller Kevin Durant, starts to tip the scales the other direction. In this game, Boston will embark on a six-game road trip that features exactly zero gimmes.

    The softest spot in this stretch is either this game or the trip finale against the Los Angeles Lakers, meaning the "easiest" it gets is either dueling with Durant and Kyrie Irving or tussling with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Yes, it's as brutal as it sounds.

    That just heightens the importance of this game, since it would get the trip started on the right foot. Not to mention the Celtics could score a signature victory and send the message that the Eastern Conference still runs through Boston.

2. Dec. 25: vs. Milwaukee Bucks

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    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 07: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket on Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of a game at Fiserv Forum on April 07, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
    John Fisher/Getty Images

    It feels a bit as if folks might be overlooking the Bucks, who won the 2021 title and could have defended their crown had Khris Middleton avoided the injury bug in the postseason.

    The Celtics won't make that mistake. They know firsthand how dangerous Milwaukee can be, as these two teams locked horns for seven games in the conference semis even though Middleton went down with an MCL sprain in the opening round.

    Boston also split last season's series with Milwaukee 2-2. The Celtics' primary issue was the same as most Bucks' opponents: an inability to corral All-Universe superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. He averaged 32.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the two Bucks' wins. However, he managed only 20 points, eight boards and three helpers in the lone loss that he played.

    Throw in the holiday backdrop and the global audience sure to tune-in and this is a can't-miss matchup with major implications atop the Eastern Conference.

1. April 4: at Philadelphia 76ers

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    Boston, MA - October 18: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates a three pointer during the second quarter. The Boston Celtics took down the 76ers, 126-117, in the opening game of the 2022-23 NBA Regular Season. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
    Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    As loaded as the East appears this season, most will agree that a three-team tier sits at the top featuring Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia.

    In other words, you could throw a dart at any game featuring two of the three and you'd hit on a critical contest.

    What gives this game such a heavy significance, though, is the timing. This will be the fourth game remaining on the Celtics' slate and their last scheduled bout with an on-paper elite. Tiebreaker ramifications could run rampant in this contest.

    The Celtics did well to strike first in this series, but things get interesting if the Sixers manage to get at least one of the next two games between them. That could set up a scenario in which this matchup either determines the head-to-head tiebreaker or at least evens the score there and moves these two teams down to the next tiebreaker.