Celtics playing on Christmas Day is a good sign

  • Boston Celtics' Avery Bradley, left, goes to the basket past Orlando Magic's Jeff Green (34) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Boston won 117-87. (AP Photo/John Raoux) John Raoux

  • Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives on Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Paul Sancya

  • The last time the Boston Celtics played on Christmas Day, Rajon Rondo scored 19 points to lead his team to a 93-76 win over the Brooklyn Nets on the road in 2012. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 12/24/2016 12:36:41 PM

For the first time since 2012, the Boston Celtics will play on Christmas Day – facing the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Saturday at noon on ESPN.

Games on Christmas Day have become a bit more contentious in recent years. Players have said in the past that the games take away from time that’s supposed to be spent with family. And that’s true.

But for the Celtics, being featured on the holiday slate should be taken as a compliment. And serving as an appetizer to the Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals rematch (2:30 p.m.) should be seen as high praise.

Case in point, the Christmas Day slate is usually reserved for the top of the crop, the teams the NBA knows will keep televisions across America tuned in all day long. And the Celtics have been left off the list the last few years, seemingly implying their lack of relevance during a few rebuilding seasons.

Dating back to 2008, only twice has a Christmas schedule included three or more teams that didn’t end up making the playoffs that season. All in all, just 14 of the last 40 teams to play on the holiday turned out to be non-playoff teams.

Since the NBA switched to a five-game holiday schedule in 2008, only once has the NBA champion been left out of a Christmas Day game the season it won – Dallas won in 2011 but didn’t play on Christmas in 2010.

For the first time since 2012, the C’s are apparently considered a team worth watching.

Some players may be disappointed about missing time with family and maybe even about having to play on national television, where the Celtics are just 1-5 this season.

But make no mistake about it – a return to national prominence is not a bad thing for this team, although the spotlight can be harder to play in at times.

There’s just one player on Boston’s roster who has experienced the Christmas Day shine as a member of an NBA team; all the rest will be experiencing the 69-year-old tradition for the first time. Gerald Green played 26 minutes for the Miami Heat in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 25, 2015, scoring six points on 3-for-10 shooting.

This will be the 29th time in franchise history the Celtics play on the road for Christmas. Only once – in 1964 – did Boston host a holiday game. The C’s are 12-17 all-time.

Special jerseys

Being one of the 10 teams playing Saturday, Boston will don special edition Christmas Day jerseys. The Celtics simplified their green road jersey and traded its regular white block font for cursive letters that spell out Boston, while the numbers and player names are also in less traditional font.

Sports Illustrated ranked Boston’s alternate jerseys fourth of the 10 teams taking the court today. Minnesota, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers were ranked above the Celtics. New York’s royal blue jerseys with orange font were ranked seventh and the Clippers finished dead last with all red uniforms and white cursive font displaying the team’s name across the chest.

Unfortunately, the Clippers’ special jerseys are likely more destined for the clearance rack than the top of any jersey sales charts.

While I’ve always been critical of the NBA’s attempt to extort its fans of more money via holiday jersey sales in the past, I enjoy this year’s concept. And pretty much anything is an upgrade over the ill-fated, first-name-only jerseys in 2014.

Christmas gifts

Being in a festive mood, I brainstormed which gifts should realistically end up beneath the trees of Boston’s players and coaches this holiday season:

Isaiah Thomas – A copy of Aretha Franklin’s famous single “Respect” – clearly, it’s something the rest of the NBA is lacking in reference to the Celtics’ star. Thomas’s absence earlier this month with a groin injury made one fact clear: This team needs IT to be successful.

Avery Bradley – An All-Star Game appearance. There are plenty of solid shooting guards in the NBA and that could be related to Bradley’s career-long absence from the All-Star Game. But make no mistake about it, the seventh-year Texas product deserves at least a little consideration for the All-Star Game this year. He’s on pace to average a career-high 17 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 7.3 per game ... as a shooting guard ... on a team that features Al Horford and his $28 million annual salary.

Gerald Green – A copy of How to Be Better At Basketball in 21 days: The Ultimate Guide to Drastically Improving Your Basketball Shooting, Passing and Dribbling Skills. It would be useful if Green focused on the chapter about passing and ignored the chapter on shooting every time he touches the basketball.

Terry Rozier – Someone get this kid a few more minutes on the floor. His effectiveness has skyrocketed this season, which seems to coincide with spending his first full offseason working out in Boston. Playing in just 39 games during his entire rookie season, Rozier has already suited up in all of the Celtics’ 30 games this season. Going into Friday, his field goal percentage – at .278 last season – is up to .375 this year and his 3-point percentage has gone from .222 to .319.

Brad Stevens – A tie. One that preferably stays around his neck no matter where he is or what he’s doing. The Celtics are now 9-3 this season when Stevens wears a tie and 7-10 when he goes tie-less. ESPN’s Chris Forsberg noticed an uptick in Stevens’s tie usage this season but the coach brushed it off, saying, “I’m not superstitious at all.”

Merry Christmas, folks.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)

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