(Reuters) - The Boston Celtics’ hopes of making a run at an NBA title were considered to be over when one of their top players went down in the season opener, but the resilient group have not let adversity change their intentions.
Instead, the Celtics are riding an impressive 13-game win streak heading into Thursday’s clash with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, one of the more highly-anticipated matchups of the first month of a season.
Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team have two NBA titles to show from three consecutive Finals matchups with the Eastern Conference’s Cleveland Cavaliers, knows the Celtics are the real deal.
“It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie (Irving) is amazing,” said Kerr.
“That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that’s to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.”
Gordon Hayward, acquired in July, was expected to lead the Celtics along with Irving to contend for a title but was promptly lost for the campaign after he gruesomely dislocated his left ankle five minutes into his Boston debut.
The injury was one that many pundits felt would change the trajectory of the Celtics, who last season reached the Eastern Conference final, and assure the LeBron James-led Cavs a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
But the Celtics, who boast the NBA’s best record at 13-2, had other ideas and have shown no signs of slowing down.
Irving, who requested a trade from the Cavaliers during the offseason, is playing some of the best basketball of his career and the Celtics have used both a stifling defense and impressive rebounding to overpower opponents.
In doing so, Boston have proven themselves as legitimate contenders for the championship in June. Should they get that far they may get an early look at their potential opponent when they host Golden State on Thursday for their first true test of the season.
“They’re really sound, and they’re motivated,” said Kerr. “It’s a team that’s been on the rise the last couple of years. They lost in the conference finals. They want to win a championship, and it looks like it.
“Even without Gordon Hayward and that awful injury, Boston is just crushing people. So, it’s going to be really fun to go against them on Thursday. We know how tough it’s going to be.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis