clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Celtics Nation Hater Index: Power rankings for the necessary spite towards all 30 NBA teams

Which teams should Celtics fans be rooting against the hardest?

NBA: New York Knicks knock Boston Celtics off the top
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It has been over fifteen years since the Boston Celtics last won an NBA championship — the second-longest drought in franchise history. Of course, this gap between titles has been far less brutal than the 22-year stretch between 1986 and 2008. During that span, the Cs have missed the playoffs just once, finishing with a record of 25-57 in 2013-14 in Brad Stevens’ inaugural season as head coach.

Despite the lack of championship success, Boston’s fans have had plenty to root for over the last decade and a half. However, it’s starting to get to a point where people are expecting more from the team.

Just two years ago, it felt as if they were minutes away from all but clinching their 18th title by taking a 3-1 lead over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Instead, Stephen Curry caught fire, the Celtics missed a bunch of threes, and Golden State walked away from TD Garden with a Game 4 win. Boston didn’t win another game in that series and fell to the Dubs in six. But it didn’t seem to matter. That playoff run felt like found-money after the Celtics got off to a dreadful start in the first half of that season.

Last year was the complete opposite. The Cs were amongst the favorites to win the title entering the playoffs back in April. They got off to a roaring start, taking a 2-0 lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. After that, it became one of the most frustrating stretches of my Celtics fandom. Instead of closing out what could’ve been an easy sweep against the Hawks, the Cs took six games to do the job. Then, they failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities to make quick work of the Philadelphia 76ers, losing Games 1 & 4 in the closing moments. Frustration peaked when Boston fell down 0-3 to the No. 8 seeded Miami Heat, battled back and got everyone’s hopes up, then laid an egg at home in Game 7.

Why am I venting all of this to you?

Kristaps Porzingis Introduced As Boston Celtic Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Well, because the Celtics have almost gotten too good on paper to enjoy. Anything less than an NBA title this season would feel like a bit of a letdown after the team brought in Kristaps Porzingis as part of a roster shake-up.

The sky-high expectations that the fanbase is carrying into the year could suck some of the fun out of things.

With that being said, misery loves company.

So, to help make the year a bit less stressful (even though the real torture chamber starts up in April) let’s take a look at which teams Celtics fans should be rooting against the most.

For this, I’ll factor in a few different categories and a 0-5 ratings system.

First and foremost, there’s the rivalry angle. The Celtics have a long illustrious history that’s riddled with tons of back-and-forth — or not-so-back-and-forth — battles with other franchises. So those are certainly teams that Cs fans should just always be praying on the downfall of.

There’s also a logistical angle to this. How can the organization legitimately benefit from a team performing poorly? In 2016 and 2017, the Brooklyn Nets should’ve been towards the top of these rankings because the Cs reaped the rewards of their downfall and were able to draft Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Lastly, we’ll check in and see if there are any legitimate grudges to be held or revenge to be sought. Whether the scars are big or small, there’s a little bit of spite in all of us. Who wouldn’t like to see a team that’s gotten the better of the Celtics maybe underperform a bit?

Now — if you think I’m being too negative, well you might be right. BUT we’ll start this off on a positive note.

Memphis Grizzlies Introduce Marcus Smart Presser Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

29. Memphis Grizzlies

If there’s one non-Celtics team that the Garden faithful should be pulling for, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis is the new home for longtime Cs guard Marcus Smart. Smart was traded to the Grizz back in June as part of the three-team deal that landed Porzingis in Boston. The former Oklahoma State star had a connection with the fanbase like few others, and many feel that it’s hard to see him go.

Now, there’s the contingency of fans who are happy that he’s gone and they can re-seed the Grizzlies on their own list as they see fit.

But at the end of the day, it’ll be fun to have a secondary team to root for this year.

28. San Antonio Spurs

Rivalry Scale: -1

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

The Spurs have essentially become almost like an ally to the Celtics, hence their score of negative one on the rivalry scale. Brad Stevens and Gregg Popovich have worked together to negotiate a few trades.

San Antonio sent Derrick White over to the Cs in 2022 in return for Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2028 first-round pick swap.

The Spurs also helped the Celtics out last season, when they took on Noah Vonleh’s salary in a minor swap.

Plus, there really haven’t been any super serious meetings between the two teams, despite their significant amounts of success.

The relationship here seems great and there is a great deal of respect on both sides.

Of course, there’s also the Victor Wembanyama angle to this. The French big man enters the NBA as the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James back in 2003. Here’s to hoping his relationship with the Celtics pans out a bit differently.

27. Indiana Pacers

Rivalry Scale: -1

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

Much like the Spurs, the Pacers come in on the negative side of the rivalry scale, but for a more similar reason to the Grizzlies. Indiana’s roster is comprised of some former Celtics who were sent there as part of the Malcolm Brogdon trade last summer. Both Daniel Theis and Aaron Nesmith will be suiting up in blue and gold this season, and make for a pretty difficult pair to root against.

Theis played a decent-sized role on a Boston team that fought its way to the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2020. During his two stints with the team, he showcased an ability to be solid at just about everything and always played hard. Plus, his whistle was always comically bad.

As for Nesmith, it was nice to see him take a bit of a leap after finding real minutes with the Pacers. He averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for Indiana in 73 appearances last year. His minutes average nearly doubled compared to what it was with the Cs, jumping from 12.7 to 24.9 per contest.

It would be nice to see the two of them fare well alongside Tyrese Haliburton — a personal non-Celtic favorite.

26. Utah Jazz

Rivalry Scale: -1

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0.5

Utah being slotted above both Indiana and San Antonio could come as a bit of a surprise, but there’s fair reasoning for it. The cause of their negative rating on the rivalry scale stems from — of course — Danny Ainge being the man in charge.

Ainge spent roughly 18 years in charge of the Celtics. He first took over in 2003, five years before watching a team that he built hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2008. Ainge eventually “retired” from the job in 2021, stepping down and letting Stevens take the reins.

Less than a year after “retiring,” the former Celtic architect took a new job in Utah, becoming the Jazz’s CEO of basketball operations and alternate governor on December 15, 2021.

Ainge’s championship legacy was the driving force behind my increased affection for the Jazz. But, the faux-retirement is enough to lose them half a point on the grudge scale, slotting Utah at No. 26.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

25. Minnesota Timberwolves

Rivalry Scale: -0.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

Minnesota comes in as the final team to have any Celtic brownie points. Their negative rating on the rivalry scale stems from the eternal respect earned via the Kevin Garnett trade in the summer of 2007.

Sure, plenty of time has passed, Kevin McHale hasn’t been running things over there for a while, and Garnett is long retired. None of that matters because The Big Ticket’s number hangs high above the parquet at TD Garden alongside that 2008 championship banner.

Minnesota took quite the haul for KG, but allowed Boston to hold onto Rajon Rondo, who was another key contributor to many years of Celtic success.

From a more modern standpoint, you kind of have to take pity on them for last year’s Rudy Gobert trade. The Wolves more-or-less gave up a plethora of draft picks for the privilege of paying an above-average role player $41 million per year.

24. Denver Nuggets

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

We’ve now reached the region of apathy.

Aside from their unreliable rims, which Robert Williams III dunked on so hard that we all had to sit through a 45-minute delay while they were fixed, the Nuggets really haven’t given me too much to hate on.

There isn’t even anything to factor into the grudge scale because Boston has largely been successful against the reigning champs. Prior to New Year’s Day loss (asterisk for the questionable rims), the Cs had beaten the Nuggets six straight times, spanning all the way back to 2019.

Nikola Jokic is also one of the most likable and relatable superstars — perhaps ever? The man has won two of the last three NBA MVP awards, put on an all-time playoff run, and led Denver to its first-ever NBA title, then complained that he wanted to go home.

Sounds just like me after a long week in the office. Respect.

23. Portland Trail Blazers

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

Alright, the Blazers truly have not done anything to upset me. If anything, you really have to respect them dragging their feet all summer on a potential Damian Lillard trade to the Miami Heat (keep scrolling, buddy), just to send him to the Milwaukee Bucks instead (also keep scrolling). We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but not allowing Lillard to strong-arm them into taking pennies on the dollar for him is a pretty baller move.

On the other hand, if they had caved and given him what he wanted after this whole fiasco then they may have been bumped up a few spots on this list. Not only would it have been a terrible move for their franchise, but it would’ve also made the Heat even more of a pain for Boston.

The Celtics just fell to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. They didn’t need any free help to further strengthen their roster.

Aside from the Lillard saga, the Blazers are a relatively likable team. Scoot Henderson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, is primed to be one of the most exciting rookies from this year’s class. It’ll be interesting to see what he looks like when given the green light on a Lillard-less Portland team.

22. New Orleans Pelicans

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

The Pelicans are another team where there’s no real beef — because Zion Williamson ate it all. Seriously, it’s hard to completely hate on New Orleans because they really haven’t gotten to be the team that they could be. Last season, they were at the top of the Western Conference in late 2022, before Williamson went down with an injury.

Boston has nothing to gain from a Pelicans downfall and there isn’t even much of a reason for Cs fans to be holding a grudge. The Celtics have won their last four meetings with New Orleans, sweeping each of the last two season series.

Maybe you could point to the Pels electing to send Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers instead of Boston in the summer of 2019, but who knows how interested the Cs actually were or if it would’ve even been worth it. Looking back, I’m personally pretty glad they didn’t trade either one of Tatum or Brown to the Big Easy for The Brow.

21. Charlotte Hornets

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0.5

Charlotte isn’t a team that’s served as much of a rival for the Celtics at all. They haven’t met the Cs in the postseason since 1993 and haven’t fielded enough strong rosters to serve as a consistent pain in the Eastern Conference.

While they don’t move the Rivalry Scale or Logistical Scale, there is a reason, albeit a small one, for Boston fans to root against the Hornets. Back in 2020, then-Celtics forward Gordon Hayward elected to join Charlotte as a free agent. Of course, Hayward still hasn’t returned to an All-Star level of play since leaving Utah, but at the time he was a key contributor to a solid Boston team.

After he left, the Cs went through a down year, failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs largely due to a lack of depth. Stevens has since plugged the void left by Hayward’s departure, but to pretend like his absence wasn’t felt, at least for a little bit, is just that — pretending.

20. Oklahoma City Thunder

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

Oklahoma City is one of the league’s newer teams and hasn’t quite gotten the opportunity to be a thorn in the side of the Celtics just yet. Being in the Western Conference, they only match up with Boston twice per season.

But, in the recent meetings, they’ve given the Cs some pretty brutal Ls, especially because they were one of the NBA’s weaker teams over the past few seasons. Last year there was the January 3 loss where they hung 150 points on Boston, causing the fanbase to absolutely lose its mind.

Two years prior, they snapped a 14-game losing streak in Boston, downing the Cs 119-115 on the parquet.

The fact that I could remember two painful losses against OKC off the top of my head is enough to earn them a point on the Grudge Scale.

19. Sacramento Kings

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

Much like the Hornets, the Kings haven’t had a ton of recent success. They just earned their first playoff berth since 2006, finishing third in the Western Conference last season.

Prior to that, it was many years of hurt for Sacramento, except for the 2018-19 season, where they nearly stumbled into the playoffs, recording their highest win total since their last postseason appearance, earning 39 Ws.

What’s so special about the 2018-19 campaign? Well, it was the year when the Celtics held the rights to the Kings’ first-round draft pick. So, of course, Sacramento managed to scrounge out enough wins for the pick to see its value diminish significantly.

Instead of selecting from the likes of the aforementioned Williamson, Ja Morant, or Darius Garland, Boston wound up rolling with Langford at No. 14.

The following year, the Kings snatched up Halliburton at pick No. 12, leaving the Cs to pick Aaron Nesmith two spots later.

18. Phoenix Suns

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

Yet another grudge spawned during summer is with the Suns, more specifically Kevin Durant. Back in 2016 many Celtics fans, including myself, were all in on the idea of KD in green. The team itself stood in the same court.

Everyone remembers the photos of Kelly Olynyk, Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas, and even Tom Brady storming the Hamptons with hopes of winning over the superstar wing.

Ultimately, Durant decided to pack his bags and leave the Thunder. But, instead of joining the Cs, he joined the 73-9 Warriors. It was a move that stung fans all over the nation and changed the perspective on KD in the general public.

Three years later, he helped to draw Kyrie Irving away from Boston and to the Brooklyn Nets — not that Irving was sticking around anyway. He and Irving split two playoff series against the Celtics, sending them home in 2021 and then getting swept the season after.

17. Washington Wizards

Rivalry Scale: 0.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

Washington comes in as the first team to have any score in the “Rivalry” category. That stems from the 2017 playoff series that went the distance and gave us all some memorable moments to look back on. There was the loss of Isaiah Thomas’ tooth, his 53-point performance in Game 2, the little dust-up in Game 3, John Wall’s game-winner in Game 6, and Olynyk’s clutch outing in Game 7.

Fortunately, the Cs were the ones who came out on top after the long slog. It was such an engaging series that the NBA elected to have the two sides square off on Christmas Day later in the year.

The key faces from that time period have all moved on, with both Smart and Bradley Beal finding new homes this summer (I suppose Al Horford is still around, though).

Despite that, there’s a bit of a grudge to be had. As part of the Smart-Porzingis deal this summer, Boston dumped off a few contracts to the Wizards, including Danilo Gallinari. After being dealt, the Italian wing said that he had his return to TD Garden circled on the calendar. Of course, this is par for the course after a trade and was said in a joking manner. But, with Washington being projected towards the bottom of the league, the Celtics simply cannot fall to the Wizards in that game because the internet will have them on the rotisserie.

16. Orlando Magic

Rivalry Scale: 0.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

The Magic are a pretty likable team at the moment. They’ve got a young star in Paolo Banchero and seem to be building a solid roster around him. So, why are they high up on this list?

Well, Boston and Orlando have had their battles over the years. Back in 1995, the Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway edition of the Magic eliminated the Dominique Wilkins-led Cs from the postseason. Then, 14 years later the two met again and the result was the same, this time with Dwight Howard topping Boston’s Big 3. The following season, the Celtics got revenge and took down an improved Orlando side to return to the NBA Finals.

They’re also a part of Boston’s In-Season Tournament group, so there’s that fun angle to possibly reignite the rivalry.

On top of all that, they also dominated last season’s Celtics team. They won the final three meetings, sweeping Boston on a weekend home doubleheader, then taking the season finale in Orlando. Even in the one loss in October, the Magic still played the Celtics tough but ultimately fell 96-92.

15. Chicago Bulls

Rivalry Scale: 1

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

Chicago’s rivalry with Boston hasn’t been active for a few years now. The last time that they had any real run-in with the Bulls was back in 2017 in the playoffs. Chicago was on its way to upsetting the No. 1 seeded Celtics team before Rajon Rondo went down with a hand injury. After that, Boston won four straight games and headed to the second round.

Eight years before that, the two sides found themselves in a similar scenario. The Bulls gave the Celtics a serious scare in the 2009 playoffs, pushing them to seven games in one of the all-time great series. If you’re bored, I’ve attached a 53-minute highlight video from the entire round.

There’s also that time Michael Jordan set the playoff-scoring record at the old Boston Garden in 1986.

Though the rivalry has died down, the competition has not. Last season’s meetings were split with two wins apiece. Chicago’s two victories were both tough blowout losses for the Cs, while Boston’s came in closer games. There’s a small grudge to be held, but nothing too deep.

Boston will be battling it out with Chicago in the group stage of the In-Season Tournament.

14. Brooklyn Nets

Rivalry Scale: 1

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

The Nets did have a little stretch there where they truly served as a rival to Boston. They had their own Benedict Arnold in Irving, as well as the one that got away in Durant. While that core was together, they split two playoff series with the Cs. Unfortunately for them, they imploded ahead of last season’s trade deadline and were forced to send their stars to new homes.

With their new-look younger core centered around Mikal Bridges, the Nets aren’t quite as unlikable as they used to be. They are still, however, in the Atlantic Division, as well as part of Boston’s group for the In-Season Tournament. There certainly won’t be any love lost between the two sides this year.

The grudge aspect of this stems back to the Kyrie stuff. While he was still in Boston, Nets fans filling the Barclays Center broke out into “Kyrie’s leaving” chants during a late-season meeting with the Cs.

They inevitably got their wish and made claims that they’d finished off the Celtics. So in this case, people don’t forget.

Something to note — Irving’s last game as a Net took place at TD Garden where Brooklyn got run off of the parquet by 40 points.

13. Toronto Raptors

Rivalry Scale: 1.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0.5

The Raptors truthfully don’t seem to know what direction they’re headed in. They missed the playoffs last season, falling to the Bulls during the Play-In Tournament, and have been trending negatively since capturing the NBA title in 2019. Yet, they refuse to initiate any sort of rebuild and are attempting to remain competitive.

During their recent run of competitiveness, they made their presence known. That 2020 playoff series in the bubble was a classic and probably took a year or two off of my life. Throughout that matchup and the ensuing seasons, their fanbase was heard quite loudly. They have a serious distaste for the Celtics, so the Raps clock the highest rivalry rating so far.

Last year, Boston owned the North, sweeping all four of their regular-season matchups. So, the grudge here does not stem from any sort of bad recent memories on the court. It actually is derived from Nick Nurse’s decision to run Kemba Walker into the ground during the 2020 All-Star Game. Walker’s knee was never the same and he ultimately fizzled out, first with the Celtics, then with the rest of the NBA. Nurse isn’t coaching the Raptors anymore, but the incident still doesn’t sit well.

Houston Rockets Introduce Ime Udoka Press Conference Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

12. Houston Rockets

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 2

Ah Houston, the highest grudge score so far. This may be a polarizing one, but Ime Udoka earns the cold shoulder here. Sure, many fans fondly remember his lone season at the helm for the Cs. The team made a return to the NBA Finals after a 12-year hiatus, nearly won the title, and looked primed for a second run at it in 2022-23.

Then it all came crashing down. His exit from Boston was abrupt, reportedly self-inflicted, and really threw a wrench into things for last season’s team. The front office didn’t really have time to formulate a succession plan for Udoka and was forced to work quickly. That left Joe Mazzulla in charge (he was fine, not perfect, but fine) and his staff in shambles.

Damon Stoudamire left for the Georgia Tech head coaching job mid-season, and the remaining assistants headed to Houston after Udoka was hired. If Boston was able to build on what they’d started in the 2021-22 season, they might’ve taken it all the way and won banner 18.

Instead, things were seemingly set back a year. The players had to adapt to their third coach in as many seasons and it didn’t go according to plan. There were clearly some growing pains from Mazzulla at less-than-ideal times. With that being said — I’m eager to see how Joe performs with a full staff and a full summer of preparation.

11. Detroit Pistons

Rivalry Scale: 2

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 0

We’re turning back the clocks for this one. Boston’s rivalry with Detroit is an ancient one, but it’s significant enough to still matter. In the 1980s the Larry Bird-led Celtics squared off against the Bad Boy Pistons on several occasions. The battles were so trying, intense, and sort of dirty that the effects were lasting. Bird and Pistons center Bill Laimbeer still don’t see eye-to-eye to this day.

Since the days of the Big 3 vs. the Bad Boys, Boston and Detroit have met in the playoffs just twice, with the fellas in green winning in both 2002 and 2008. There hasn’t been much room for the rivalry to reignite, as the Pistons have been in basketball purgatory for the better part of 15 years. They finished with the league’s worst record last season, and watched as the worst-possible scenario played out the NBA Draft Lottery, dropping them all the way to the fifth pick.

At this point in time, there’s no real reason to have a grudge against Detroit. There’s an angle of pity due to the whole basketball purgatory thing, plus the Celtics have beaten them six straight times.

BONUS: An AI program was asked to generate mascots for all 30 NBA franchises and the one that it made for Detroit, “Peton,” is hysterical. Small grudge because they haven’t made him real!

10. Atlanta Hawks

Rivalry Scale: 1.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

Atlanta is the first of last season’s playoff opponents to appear on this list. The first-round series was one that the Celtics looked to have complete control of — until they didn’t. After dominating the first two games at home, Boston had some of its weaknesses exposed on the road in Game 3, and again back at home for Game 5.

Trae Young really took advantage of the aging former Hawk, Horford, and targeted him on the perimeter. It was a tactic that bled into some later matchups for the Cs and it was pretty annoying to watch because of its effectiveness. Plus, Young’s fiery competitiveness can tend to rub some fans the wrong way. After he drilled a silencer in Game 5, he had some words for the Garden faithful — perhaps igniting a rivalry? I could see it, sure. I’d imagine that there will be some boos for him in Atlanta’s first game on the parquet this year.

There’s a small grudge here as well because the Hawks had no business pushing that series to six games (it was partially on the Celtics too, don’t get me wrong). Essentially, I just didn’t appreciate the added stress. In addition, those extra games gave 76ers star Joel Embiid some extra recovery time, as he worked his way back from a knee injury (not that it matters, Boston lost the only game in which he didn’t play anyway).

9. Cleveland Cavaliers

Rivalry Scale: 1.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 2

In theory, it should be very difficult to root against Cleveland sports fans. They’ve had a history of heartbreak and very little to cheer about. The Cavaliers won the city’s first major sports championship just a few years back in 2016.

Despite the lack of banners hanging in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, the Cavs have fielded plenty of competitive teams over the years. They’d probably have a few titles to their names had it not been for the dominant Warriors teams of the 2010s. Though they only lifted one Larry O’Brien Trophy, mid 2010s saw Cleveland serve as a massive problem for the rest of the Eastern Conference, including the Celtics.

The LeBron James-led Cavs ended Boston’s season in 2015, 2017, and 2018 (at least there was that super-cool Tatum dunk, right?). Prior to that, the Cs sent James and the Cavs packing in both 2008 and 2010, so there’s been somewhat of a back-and-forth here. However, the real sting of the rivalry is centered around James more than the Cavaliers.

There’s also a small grudge to be held, due to the way that Cleveland handled the Cs last year. They took three of the four regular-season meetings, handing the Celtics three heartbreaking overtime losses, including probably the funniest loss I’ve ever seen.

The Grant Williams “Imma make both” game was, indeed, against the Cavs. Grant’s 0-2 trip to the line capped off a signature fourth-quarter collapse for Boston.

8. New York Knicks

Rivalry Scale: 2

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1.5

Boston-New York seems to be a rivalry across every avenue possible. Basketball is no different — even if it is a bit one-sided. The Celtics and Knicks are two of the league’s original 11 franchises. They’re the only teams to have never relocated and both play in a place called The Garden.

The difference?

Despite each team existing since the league’s conception in 1946, there are 15 extra titles hanging above the TD Garden floor, compared to the measly two hanging in Madison Square Garden. Yet, there’s still a bit of extra juice any time they face off in the regular season or playoffs.

Plus, both teams have high hopes right now. Boston’s are certainly higher, but the Knicks are considered competitive for what feels like the first time in forever — even more of a reason to root against them.

The Knicks get this weird treatment in the NBA, where fans across the nation clamor for them to be good “because the league is more fun when they are.”

Is it really??

They haven’t won a title in over 50 years. How important is their success to the league’s formula, really?

This added “you’re supposed to root for them” element just makes me want them to fail more and earns them the eighth spot on this list.

7. Dallas Mavericks

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 4

And then what happened?

Dallas’ (maybe too high) ranking on this list is entirely grudge-based. As a Western Conference team, the Mavericks don’t really play Boston enough to be considered a rival. But, they do employ one of the Celtics’ least-favorite familiar faces.

Irving joined the Mavs back in February, after burning yet another bridge in Brooklyn and forcing a trade. Again, he ditched the Cs in favor of teaming up with KD on the Nets back in 2019.

After his departure things got bitter on both sides. As fans do, Boston’s were none-too-pleased with the All-Star guard’s decision to skip town after promising to re-up on a new contract.

He was mercilessly booed anytime he returned to face the Celtics, which didn’t actually happen until his second year with the Nets. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, fans didn't get the chance to see Irving in person until the playoffs. When they did, they filled the Garden for the first full house since early 2020 for Game 4 against Brooklyn and let him hear. The Nets blew the Cs out, taking a commanding 3-1 lead, and Irving took the chance to stomp on the center-court logo, sticking it to the hostile home crowd.

If there was any chance that time would heal this wound, that moment squashed it.

The following spring, it was another first-round meeting for the Nets and Celtics. Boston took it in a sweep, but Kyrie had some messages for the fans. He responded to some Game 1 boos and heckles by showing the crowd his middle fingers.

Is the beef between Kyrie Irving and Celtics fans what it once was?


But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to hope that the Mavs have as poor of a season as possible — except for Grant Williams, forever wishing him the best.

Also, Luka Doncic downed the Celtics twice on a pair of game-winners a few years back, and the Mavericks beat Boston on KG day, so there’s that too.

6. Milwaukee Bucks

Rivalry Scale: 4.5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 1

The Bucks are probably the biggest threat to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference, especially after landing Damian Lillard. Lillard joins the Bucks after three months of kicking and screaming that he wanted to play for the Heat.

Lillard joins an already scary Bucks team that Boston has been battling with for years now. They’ve met so often that both fanbases could call the other their rival, for sure. Since 2018, Milwaukee has run into Boston three times in the playoffs, with the Celtics coming out on top twice.

The 2022 Eastern Conference semifinal matchup was a classic, going the full seven games. This past season, it seemed like they were once again on a collision course — that is until Miami decided to go supernova in the playoffs. They took out the Bucks in the first round, then Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Heading into the new campaign, it once again feels like we’re due for a Celtics-Bucks slugfest. Both rosters are revamped and ready to make a run at the top spot in the East, as well as another championship.

There’s no doubt that Boston’s fanbase will be preying on the Buck’s downfall anytime they get the chance this year.

5. LA Clippers

Rivalry Scale: 0

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 5

This summer has been flooded with drama for the Celtics. It all started after they came up short in the playoffs. After that, the front office was convinced that change was necessary. That belief led them to hone-in on Porzingis and eventually land him in a three-team trade.

The thing is that the trade that happened was not the original plan. It was a last-minute shift after the Clippers pulled out of the initial deal. They were supposed to take back Malcolm Brogdon, Boston would get Porzingis, and Marcus Morris Sr. was supposed to head to Washington with the 30th pick in this year’s draft.

After LA pulled out of the deal due to concerns about Brogdon’s injured forearm, Boston was forced to cough up Smart to the Grizzlies in order to get something done before the midnight deadline to extend Porzingis’ existing contract.

The trade went through and Porzingis was sent to the Celtics, who then extended him for two seasons.

In the aftermath, Brogdon was reportedly upset with Boston because he was reported to be traded. You can’t really blame him, but the issue became quite frustrating as the summer went on.

Things seem to be smoothed over as training camp approaches, but the Clippers are to blame for the unnecessary frustration, and Smart’s time in Boston coming to a close.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

Rivalry Scale: 5

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 3

Philadelphia was always going to be towards the top of this list. They’re one of Boston’s truest rivals and the rivalry is strong as ever today. Both teams have high aspirations for this upcoming season, though Philly is dealing with some turmoil on the James Harden front.

Though the Sixers may be the most bitter rival the Celtics have in the Eastern Conference, they’ve got some serious little brother energy.

Philadelphia hasn’t beaten Boston in a playoff series since 1982. They almost did it last season, but failed to close out a Game 6 at home, then got absolutely throttled at the Garden in Game 7, thanks to a 51-point outing from Tatum.

Sixers fans are so badly tortured by the Celtics that it seems as if anytime they get the chance to play them, the game feels like a Game 7 of the NBA Finals for Philadelphia. It’s actually pretty funny.

I’m sorry I don’t have more digs at the 76ers, they just feel like a little harmless pest to me that I hardly even consider them a threat or rival. It’s weird I know.

3. Miami Heat

Rivalry Scale: 4

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 5

The Celtics and Heat have seen quite a bit of each other over the past few seasons. They’ve met in three Eastern Conference Finals over the last four years, with Miami coming out on top twice.

Anytime the same two teams face off repeatedly on a big stage like that they’re likely to develop some ill will towards one another. Miami has certainly earned the title of a rival for Boston. They’ve quietly been one of the more successful franchises in the NBA’s recent history, making seven NBA Finals appearances and capturing three championships since the turn of the century.

They’ve also served as a pain to the Celtics across multiple decades. In the early 2010s, the Heat assembled a Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to try and knock off the Celtics core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. They were able to achieve that goal, making four straight Finals appearances from 2011-14. Oddly enough, Allen became part of Miami’s Finals runs in 2013 and 14, after leaving the Celtics in 2012 — a move that some fans still aren’t thrilled with to this day.

The cherry on top of all of this is that Miami’s man in charge, Pat Reilly, served as the head coach of the “Showtime” Lakers (keep scrolling) back in the 1980s.

In the upcoming season, Boston and its fans should be seeking revenge on the Heat, after they kept them out of the Finals last spring.

2. Golden State Warriors

Rivalry Scale: 3

Logistical Scale: 5

Grudge Scale: 5

The Warriors may be the most well-rounded recipients of hate on the list. They’ve got it all, rivalry, logic, and a grudge to fuel the flame.

Over the past seven years or so, Boston has had some excellent regular-season battles with Golden State. There was the late 2015 matchup that saw the Warriors extend their undefeated start to the 2015-16, as they beat the Celtics for their 24th-straight win. A few months later, Boston went into Oracle Arena and snapped the Warriors’ 54-game home winning streak. From that point on, it seemed as if every time the two teams met there would be an exciting game.

Rivalry aside, the Cs have good reason to be rooting for Warriors losses this season. As part of the deal that sent Porzingis to Boston, the Celtics also acquired Golden State’s 2024 first-round draft pick. The pick is top-four protected, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Warriors were terrible. Maybe the pick could fall to fifth.

Then, there’s the grudge aspect to this. After years of classic regular-season showdowns, the two finally met in the NBA Finals in 2022 — an event that’s served as some of the inspiration for this list. As I mentioned in the introduction, the Celtics failed to take a controlling 3-1 lead in the series in Game 4, and ultimately bottomed out in six games.

Golden State’s win over Boston marked their fourth championship since 2015. Any time a team has that level of success, people will always become envious and root against them. The same can be said for the Warriors. many Celtics fans weren’t too keen on the Dubs even before that series. Now they’ve got that envy and the grudge.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Rivalry Scale: 10

Logistical Scale: 0

Grudge Scale: 5

The Lakers are quite simply the worst. They’re the biggest rival that the Celtics have, which earns them a bonus of five points on that scale. The two franchises are the most historic in the NBA. They’ve each won 17 championships and have faced off against each other in the NBA Finals — the league’s biggest stage — 12 times, with the Celtics winning 75% of the time. Their lack of success even carried over to television, as their HBO show “Winning Time” was canceled after two seasons. Due to the premature finish, the series ended with the Celtics beating the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals (So I’ve heard, I’d never watch that Lakers propaganda).

Any time Boston plays L.A., it seems like the basketball world stops. Both games from last season were excellent. Each went into overtime and most importantly, the Celtics came out on top.

The current Lakers team has an even deeper-rooted history with the Cs. James, L.A.’s leading man, has a long-standing rivalry with Boston. It’s something that I wrote about in regards to both his time in Cleveland and Miami. He may be the single-greatest Celtics villain ever.

His running mate Davis has also rubbed Celtics fans the wrong way. When there was a possibility that he’d be traded to Boston, his father did what he could to drag the Celtics for the way things went down with Isaiah Thomas. He said he wouldn’t want his son playing for an organization like Boston.

There is no reason — under any circumstances — that you should be rooting for the Lakers.


What do you think?

Did I nail it? Which teams would you have moved up or down? Did I expend to much energy into such a negative exercise?

Let me know and thanks for reading!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog