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Healthy Celtics set to make noise in NBA Eastern Conference


By Agence France-Presse

The Boston Celtics — with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injury and youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum maturing all the time — are tipped for big things in an NBA Eastern Conference now devoid of LeBron James.

James and the Cavaliers denied the injury-hit Celtics in game seven of the Eastern Conference finals last season, but a full-strength Boston squad has caught the attention of many — including Klay Thompson of the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

“I like the team out East in Boston,” Thompson said in pre-season musings on who might pose the biggest threat to a Warriors title three-peat. “I think that they are going to be a team to reckon with.”

Celtics guard Irving thinks so, too.

“Can we beat Golden State in a seven-game series? Yes,” says Irving. “Because of who we have and what we’re establishing here, not just for this season but hopefully for the next few years — something that’s pretty special.”

Irving missed the last 15 games of the regular season and the playoffs, but the former Cavaliers star says now that he’s healthy, his prior experience against the Warriors could help put the Celtics over the top if they come up against the reigning champs.

He admits that “the whole league is on notice” when it comes to the Warriors’ aim of achieving a fourth title in five years.

“But there’s one factor that they’re aware of and I’m aware of and that’s that I’ve seen them up close. I know what it takes.”

As the season approached, Irving indicated he didn’t want his impending free agency in 2019 to detract from the Celtics’ more immediate goals.

“I believe Boston is the place for me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge this year.”

Aiding that challenge will be Hayward, who missed 81 games after frightening ankle and leg injuries in last year’s season-opener.

“It’s scary to think about some of the opportunities we’re going to have going forward,” Irving said.

Hayward says last season’s adversity strengthened the Celtics, with Tatum, Brown and Terry Rozier rising to the occasion.

“There’s going to be situations where somebody is going to get hurt again, somebody’s going to be sick, somebody’s going to be having a bad game as it happens every year for every team,” he said. “To have so many guys that we can rely on, that can go get a bucket, that can go get a big-time stop — that’s huge for us as a team.” (AFP)