Why Boston is playing the Sixers in two signature regular season games

Hours before the 2018-19 NBA schedule is released later today, there are a few signature games we know the Celtics will be featured in. Boston has been placed in the two biggest slate of games in the NBA regular season: Opening night and Christmas. Oddly enough, though, they will be playing the Philadelphia 76ers in both of them.

Opening night is undeniably popular. The fresh energy and renewed hopes for every fan base brings a wave of excited viewers to the first day of meaningful NBA basketball in months. Last season, the Celtics-Cavaliers season opener reeled in 5.6 million viewers on average, one of TNT's best regular season game ratings all year.

Meanwhile, the Christmas special has become a tradition for many fans. Old basketball rivalries and player storylines are magically brought to life as you feast on your holiday meal in front of the TV. The NBA Christmas Day games are so big, in fact, that last year's x-mas showdown between the Warriors and Cavs drew in 8.8 million average viewers - more than the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals when the Celtics were defeated by the Cavs in seven games. It also beat out notable NBA events such as the All-Star Game and NBA Draft. Clearly, people enjoy watching their December 25th basketball.

The Celts must be doing something right in terms of viewership because they have been consistently making it on the Christmas Day slates:

With this in mind, the NBA's goal is to maximize viewership on these key schedule days. This gives them the ability to, in a way, help write the season's script, where they can plan on having former teammates, top rivals, or interesting storylines collide on one national broadcast. So why the Celtics-Sixers? Is having the same match-up for two key games...boring?

Let's look at why the league set this up.

National viewership

The matchups make a lot of sense for the league in terms of getting the most total eyeballs. In their 26 national game appearances in 2017-18, which were the sixth most in the league by the way, the Celtics had an average TV audience of 2.33 million people. The Warriors and the Cavs were the only two franchises that garnered more viewership.

Philly also did fairly well on the national level, especially considering their youth and unproven roster at the time. They were featured in 15 such games and brought in 1.69 million average viewers.

Locally, both teams are watched a whole lot. Last year, the Celts had a 3.25 rating on NBC Sports Boston and the Sixers posted a 2.43 on NBC Sports Philadelphia, both near the top of the league.

Team play aside, there's a lot of popular talent on these rosters. With stars like Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Joel Embiid, and Ben "one-point" Simmons, large groups of people will tune in. One thing that highlights this fact is jersey sales: Between the two of them, Boston and Philly had four of the eight most-selling jerseys: Kyrie was #3, Simmons was #5, Jayson Tatum was #7, and Embiid was #8.


Without any storylines intact, the viewers were going to be there for these matchups just given the dedication of each fanbase. However, courtesy of a heated and entertaining playoff series last May, these current rosters have some history now. The Celtics-Sixers rivalry used to be the real deal - seriously, it even has it's own Wikipedia. That bad blood is being renewed by a number of things.

A squirmish between Marcus Morris and Simmons made some tempers flare in London earlier last season. The playoffs saw Scary Terry Rozier and Emiid constantly butting heads. Of course, the All-NBA first team troll Embiid was chirping on Twitter and further stirring the pot (gotta love modern day NBA rivalries!).

More importantly, these two are the favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. With LeBron James heading West and the unknown status of the Raptors' new star Kawhi Leonard, the Sixers are expected to be Boston's top competition in the conference.

It may have been nice to see some varying opponents for these big games, but it's clear where the league is coming from. For some reason, the NBA doesn't schedule any inter-league play during opening night or Christmas Day - something that, in my opinion, would be great. Therefore, for an East-only matchup, it makes a lot of sense to have the Celtics and Sixers square off.

Follow Erik Johnson on Twitter: @erikjohnson32

Photo via AP Images