Meaningful basketball on opening night is back

The preseason schedule came out earlier in the week to tease us all and although the full 82-game regular season is still unknown, the opening night’s marquee matchups along with the Christmas lineup were released on Thursday afternoon; the Boston Celtics will be partaking in both.

Christmas Day will feature the Celtics hosting the Washington Wizards in a rematch of their epic Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. Boston will also be traveling to Cleveland for a Eastern Conference Finals rematch to open the season as part of a TNT doubleheader.

Playing on Christmas isn’t anything new to this group after taking on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden to open the five day slate last December, but the marquee game to open the season is. Since Brad Stevens took over as head coach, the Celtics have opened the year against the Toronto Raptors (2013), Brooklyn Nets (2014), Philadelphia 76ers (2015) and the Nets again (2016); no games that were really meant for a national audience to get locked in for.

Opening the year with a bang is something that was common during the previous era when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had the team fighting for a title each season. After beginning their first go-round with a game against the Wizards, the rest of them were must see matchups. Boston would begin each of the next two seasons against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2010-11 opener was arguably the most anticipated regular season matchup in franchise history, when they beat James and his new Miami Heat “super team” 88-80.

The Celtics would start the lockout shortened 2011-12 season on Christmas Day against the Knicks and then the final year of the Doc Rivers-era saw Boston begin the year against the Miami Heat once again.

A marquee matchup to open the season is how you truly know that the Celtics are back. Christmas Day games are cool, but all you need to be is a big draw. The Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers – who won a combined 57 games last season and acquired no established All-Star level talent this offseason to improve their rosters – will both be playing on December 25th simply because people watch those teams no matter what and they’ll each help draw a big audience.

Now it’s time for the Boston Celtics to take center stage and kick off a nationally televised doubleheader to get fans pumped for the season, a doubleheader which will feature the Golden State Warriors and reloaded Houston Rockets on the back end.

To get us all pumped for this anticipated matchup, let’s look back on some of those epic season openers from the Doc Rivers days.

2007-08 vs. Washington
The Wizards had gone an even 41-41 the season before so it’s not like a revamped Celtics team that had just added Garnett and Allen made this a clash of the titans or anything, but people still wanted to see how this would all work out for Boston. Gilbert Arenas did add to all the excitement a bit when he guaranteed a Washington victory on his blog. It was a competitive game for about one quarter before Boston blew it open by outscoring the Wizards 37-18 in the second frame, eventually coasting to a 103-83 victory.

2008-09 vs. Cleveland
Boston raised their 17th banner to the TD Garden rafters and they turned around right after the ceremony and had to face the team that arguably gave them the toughest playoff matchup that spring. The Cavaliers dragged the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as Boston reached 90 points just twice the entire series – never reaching triple digits – and had to withstand a 45 point game seven effort by LeBron James just to hold on. They did get to 90 points in this one, but weren’t able to pass it as they held on and won 90-85. Paul Pierce led all scorers with 27 that night.

2009-10 at Cleveland
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic played spoiler during the 2009 Eastern Conference playoffs by knocking off both the Celtics and Cavaliers, but this was still the matchup that everybody wanted to see; this time with the two squads opening up the season in Cleveland. James would come up big with an epic 38 point, eight rebound, four assist and five block night, but it ulitmently wasn’t enough. Pierce led the Celtics with 23 points of his own but a big story was Rasheed Wallace making his debut for Boston. The veteran big man outscored the Cavaliers bench all by himself with a 14 point night and he was a team high +10 as the Celtics went on to win 95-89.

2010-11 vs. Miami
As mentioned earlier, this is arguably the most anticipated regular season game in franchise history. James had taken his talents to South Beach and Chris Bosh came with him as the All-Star duo formed a new “big three” with Dwyane Wade. Despite all the hype, this game got off to an extremely ugly start and the Celtics led just 16-9 after one quarter and had a halftime score of 45-30. The big man battle of Bosh vs. Garnett was a big reason for these low scores as Bosh would finish the game just 3-for-11 from the field and Garnett wasn’t too much better as he went 4-for-11. Boston would hold on to win 88-80, shocking the basketball world as this “super team” fell in their first game together.

2011-12 at New York
Thanks to the NBA lockout, this season opener was held on Christmas Day. The offseason had been a blur because everything – outside of the draft which was still held in June – basically happened between the first week of December and the start of play. This made things really confusing because a lot of the dust was just starting to settle and fans were figuring out who their team had acquired on the fly. Ainge had traded for Brandon Bass about a week before the season and signed veteran free agent Mickael Pietrus on Christmas Eve, which didn’t even give him enough time to make it for the noon tip. The Celtics had also agreed to terms with Jeff Green but his physical reveled a heart condition that required surgery and forced him to miss the entire season, leaving them without somebody who they were counting on to be a key bench threat. Ulitmently, the Celtics coughed away a late lead as Marquis Daniels scored the team’s only basket over the final three minutes of action. Carmelo Anthony’s five points over the final 90 seconds were enough to pass Boston and put the Knicks in front.

2012-13 at Miami
Boston turned some heads by dragging the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals that spring and then they reloaded by singing Jeff Green – who was healthy after his heart scare – while also adding both Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. Miami also added to a team that was starting a title defense, signing Ray Allen and angering fans in Boston because of it. Allen would drop 19 points off the bench in a game that the Heat ulitmently controlled from the start, eventually coasting to a 120-107 win.

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