* Thursday on TNT: Celtics vs. Warriors (8 ET)
Disaster struck the Celtics just five minutes into their season-opener, when star free-agent signing Gordon Hayward was lost for the season with a gruesome leg injury. Virtually everything has gone their way since, with a 13-game win streak pushing them atop the Eastern Conference even as mainstays Al Horford and Kyrie Irving joined Hayward for short stints on the sideline.
As great as they've been so far, some think the best is yet to come for the white-hot Celtics.
Count Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr among them with his opinion that the Celtics will maintain their lofty perch as the two teams prepare to play Thursday in a potential Finals preview.
"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 is amazing," Kerr said. "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.
"They're really sound, and they're motivated. 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."
Kerr also had some praise for Irving, whom Kerr's squad has seen up close in the last three NBA Finals:
"I just think it's his team," Kerr said of Irving. "In Cleveland, he was such a dominant force, but it was always going to be LeBron's team. It just looks like Kyrie knows it's his group and he's thriving with that group of players around him. It just seems like the next stage in his development. He knew what he was doing when he decided to leave. I admire Kyrie. Obviously, he's been a thorn in our side for years, and now he just happens to wear green."
Boston defeated the Nets 109-102 on Tuesday for their 13th straight win, becoming the first team in NBA history with such a streak after opening the season with two losses. The defending champion Warriors, meanwhile, have won seven straight by an average of nearly 20 points per game.
For Irving, Haynes writes, the buzz surrounding Thursday's big showdown is something that comes with the territory.
Aware of the inevitable "media frenzy" that will come with the Celtics' winning streak as well as Thursday's showdown with the defending champion Warriors, Irving said he was "looking forward to all that hoopla."
"For us, it's another game for us to continuously get better and a test for us to really stay together and show our resilience and show what we're really made of," he said. "That's something a competitor wants to be a part of. I know we have some true competitors on this team, and obviously they're the reigning champs. For us, we're trying to accomplish something bigger than ourselves and win a championship. It's a long road ahead but getting regular season games like this is always fun."