The Boston Celtics crashed out of the playoffs in bizarre and disappointing fashion in the Eastern Conference finals last season, and responded by making some big changes in the summer. Most notably, they traded long-time point guard and fan favorite Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis. They also let Grant Williams walk and added a number of athletic wings in free agency and the draft, which will give their supporting cast around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown a different look.
Whether those changes will be the impetus to get them over the hump and bring a championship to Boston for the first time since 2008 remains to be seen, but they will once again be one of the favorites., we know the path that they'll have to take to get there.
Ahead of opening night, here's a look at five of the most important games for the Celtics:
Oct. 27: vs. Miami Heat
Just a few days after the season begins, the Celtics will take on the Heat in their home opener and a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals. Whether the Heat have Damian Lillard by that point or not, this will be one of the most anticipated matchups of opening week. After being upset by the Heat in the playoffs last season, the Celtics will have some extra motivation to get a win, and clear that mental hurdle. In addition, it will be one of our first looks at how Kristaps Porzingis fares on this new-look roster.
Novs. 22: vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Celtics and Bucks appeared to be on a collision course for the Eastern Conference finals last season before they were both stunned by the Heat. Even so, they will once again be the two favorites to represent the East in the Finals this season. A few days before Thanksgiving, they'll meet in Boston for the first of four meetings. This will be an opportunity for both teams to lay down an early marker in the race for the No. 1 seed, and our first chance to see how the Celtics' defense fares against Giannis Antetokounmpo now that Grant Williams has departed.
Dec. 25: at Los Angeles Lakers
. This will be the fifth time that they've played each other on Christmas, and the first time since 2008. The Lakers won that matchup thanks to a big game from Kobe Bryant, but the Celtics got the last laugh when they went on to beat the Lakers in the Finals. That, of course, was the last time the Celtics won it all, and they'll be hoping that another Christmas matchup in L.A. is a good omen.
Feb. 4: vs. Memphis Grizzlies
One of the biggest shocks of the entire offseason came when the Celtics traded Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in a blockbuster three-team trade that brought back Kristaps Porzingis. Smart, who had spent his entire career with the Celtics since being selected as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 draft, will make his return to Boston in early February. That game is sure to be an emotional affair, as Smart loved playing in Boston and was a fan favorite for his hard-working style and commitment to the community.
March 7: at Denver Nuggets
Late in the season, the Celtics will make a West Coast swing that starts in Denver. As they continue to chase a championship, it will be important from a mental standpoint to prove that they can beat the defending champions on their home floor. If they want to win it all, there's a good chance they'll have to go through the Nuggets to do it. Getting that game right at the beginning of the stretch run, rather than early in the season is a nice bonus as well. Both teams should be rounding into form at that point, and it will be a real test.