After waiting more than a year, the Boston Celtics will finally get to see what their new division and conference rival from Brooklyn looks like with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the court together.
Durant and Irving are both healthy and active for the Nets, who have arrived in Boston and will take on the Celtics at 8 p.m. tonight at TD Garden. The duo combined for 33 points during Brooklyn’s preseason opener, with Irving tallying 18 and Durant notching 15.
The All-NBA veterans signed with the Nets as a tandem during July of the 2019 offseason. Their decision to team up in Brooklyn signaled the arrival of a new power in the East. However, it has taken more than 17 months to see them active together for game action.
Durant missed all of last season with a torn right Achilles tendon, while Irving missed 52 of Brooklyn’s 72 games, including every game that was played after Feb. 1, due to a right shoulder injury.
Now, with both of them healthy, the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference become far more challenging for Boston in its attempt to qualify for the postseason and advance to the NBA Finals.
Marcus Smart, who spent two seasons as Irving’s teammate with the Celtics, spoke about that new challenge Friday morning.
“I think when you have a player of the caliber of Kyrie’s talent, that inevitably everything changes,” Smart said. “The conference gets better. The division gets better. The team that they play on gets better.”
As such, defending the Nets gets harder. Smart and the Celtics understand that slowing the duo and its surrounding cast down will be a hefty task.
“For us, it’s going to take a full team effort, not just on Kyrie, but Kevin as well, and the rest of those guys,” said Smart. “They’ve got their confidence. They’re playing really good. They’ve got some really good players around those guys to help them out. So it’s going to take every last one of us.”
Smart indicated that the Celtics have taken a close look at their defense since their preseason opener, during which they gave up 108 points on 47.1 percent shooting to the 76ers. The plan is to be far more in sync at that end of the court once the ball is tossed tonight against the Nets.
And it better, because Boston’s prep time for the regular season is running out. The C’s are set to open their regular season Wednesday night against Milwaukee, and two days later, they’ll square off for real against this very same Nets team on Christmas Day.
With that in mind, tonight’s matchup will serve multiple purposes for Boston. First and foremost, it will provide the Celtics with an opportunity to improve as a team at both ends of the court. Secondly, it will give them a chance to see in person what this star-led Nets team really looks like on the court. Last but not least, this game will serve as solid preparation for a meaningful rematch that looms one week from today and will be broadcast on national television.
Buckle up, folks. Starting tonight, Celtics-Nets becomes must-watch TV.