The NBA schedule was announced long before the preseason started. Indeed, all of 1997 preseason was a mere prelude to that first game, where the schedulemakers had seen fit to pit the two-time defending World Champion Chicago Bulls against the lowly Boston Celtics and their new head coach (and President) Rick Pitino.
Though the Celtics had continued their mastery of all things underwhelming during NBAx when they posted a 1-7 record, excitement was still bubbling in Boston. Pitino had promised to turn the team around from their 15-67 finish the previous year under ML Carr, promised to whip the boys into shape (offering IV fluids when necessary), and promised to install an exciting, if collegiate, brand of basketball, full of trap and press defenses and a run and gun offense. Comparisons to Red Auerbach were in the air.
And Pitino didn't disappoint, in his first game anyway (see box score below). One might conclude that Pitino's tenure as El Jeffe reached its peak on Halloween night in 1997, and it was all down hill from there. Doc Rivers, of course, doesn't have to worry about any of that. His place in history is relatively secure, and if his star is pointing in any direction, it is upward.
Still, like 1997, the Celtics' first game against the World Champions this year has been staring them in the face now for several months. Like they battled reigning MVP Michael Jordan on opening night in 1997, the Celtics will battle reigning MVP LeBron James on opening night this year. And like 1997, excitement has been building at Waltham since summer.
In addition to offering the Celtics an opportunity to prove they are a much better team than the one the Heat narrowly defeated 4-3 in last year's playoffs, Tuesday's tilt will also include the added plot line of Boston facing off against former Celtic star Ray Allen, who, after leaving the Celtics for less money to play in Miami, has spent much of his time in recent weeks explaining why the Green jilted him and not the other way around. The Celtics, of course, no longer care why #20 departed the greener pastures of New England, but will certainly make every effort to deny him the satisfaction of sticking it to his old team a second time.
Only one question remains: Can Doc and the boys deliver the goods?