The Five Most Underrated Games of Boston's First Half
BOSTON – The most unique of NBA schedule releases took place Friday afternoon, giving each 30 teams and millions of fans around the world a first look at what the rapidly-approaching season will look like.
The league released about half of each team’s full-season, 72-game schedule Friday. For the Boston Celtics, their “first-half” schedule came in at 38 games.
Boston’s first half of the season will begin Dec. 23 and extend through March 4. While they’ll play many primetime contests during that timeframe, there are others that will fly under the radar. And with that, we present to you the five most underrated games of Boston’s first half of the season.
No. 5 – Sunday, Dec. 27 at Indiana Pacers
This matchup is juicy both from a drama and from a basketball perspective. That’s a combination we couldn’t overlook.
Rumors – and we emphasize that word – ran rampant during free agency about the future of Celtics free-agent Gordon Hayward. Boston wound up signing-and-trading him to Charlotte, but one rumor had him potentially heading home to Indiana via a sign-and-trade. The latter never wound up happening as the three sides – Hayward, the Pacers and the Celtics – could not come to agreement on a deal.
Naturally following a deal that never came to fruition, there were names from both teams that were thrown into the rumor mill. And those rumors – despite not being confirmed as factual – could very well motivate those players as they head into this matchup.
Throw in the fact that both of these teams have been top-five seeds in the East for the past three seasons and that both have qualified for the Playoffs during each of the last five seasons, and this game certainly becomes one you won’t want to miss.
No. 4 – Wednesday, Feb. 3 at Sacramento Kings
Don’t sleep on the Sacramento Kings. While they haven’t qualified for the postseason for the last 14 seasons, they have a team that could very well make a run at ending that streak in 2021.
De’Aaron Fox is one of the top young players in the entire league. He averaged better than 21 points and nearly seven assists per game last season. He possesses elite speed – maybe the most elite speed in the league. You’ll want to watch him square off with a healthy Kemba Walker.
The Kings’ talent begins with Fox but extends down the roster. Marvin Bagley III has been a strong young forward since the moment he entered the league two seasons ago. Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield are established veterans who can take over games with their talent. And around that core is a strong cast of other young players and capable vets.
Boston lost a nail-biter last season in Sacramento, 100-99. This season, the young Kings will be even more potent as their players continue to develop.
No. 3 – Wednesday, Dec. 30 vs. Memphis Grizzlies
So, copy the breakdown from our No. 4 game and paste it right in here, but switch out a few names here and there. The Grizzlies are in a similar place to the Kings, except Memphis has already turned the corner in terms of competing and winning games.
The Grizzlies, led by reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, finished eighth in the West last season after compiling a 34-39 record. However, they failed to qualify for the postseason after losing two consecutive games to the Portland Trail Blazers during the play-in tournament.
The core of that team is back, with Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke all a year older and wiser. Boston’s core of Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will surely be locked into a battle with the up-and-coming Grizzlies.
No. 2 – Tuesday, February 16 vs. Denver Nuggets
Why isn’t there more talk about the Nuggets? Their roster isn’t as sexy as the two LA teams, but they’re the team that advanced to the Conference Finals last season, and they’re the only team out West that has been a top-three seed during each of the last two seasons. Similarly, the Celtics are one of only two Eastern Conference teams that have been in the top four of the conference during each of the last three seasons.
Denver’s talent runs as deep as that of any team in the league. Jamal Murray took over the 2020 postseason and Nikola Jokic is an MVP-caliber player. Strong role players such as Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton surround them, and the Nuggets will also add youngsters Bol Bol and RJ Hampton into the fold this season.
These two teams are versatile, talented and experienced. Both were in the Conference Finals last season, and both are looking to make a jump to the Finals this time around.
No. 1 – Sunday, Feb. 7 at Phoenix Suns
Phoenix rising? It appears so.
After going a perfect 8-0 inside the bubble last season, the Suns made a big-boy move in acquiring future Hall-of-Famer and 10-time All-Star Chris Paul.
Paul solidifies a Suns team that is building around All-Star wing Devin Booker, who averaged at least 26.6 points per game during each of the last two seasons. Phoenix also signed former Celtic Jae Crowder as a free agent to pair up with big men Deandre Ayton and Dario Saric to create a versatile and skilled group along the frontline.
The Suns – and Booker, in particular – have given the Celtics fits over the years. They’re expected to be even more formidable this season, which makes a Celtics-Suns matchup more appetizing than it has been in a decade.