* Tonight on ESPN: Cavs vs. Celtics (8 ET)
The storyline in 2017-18 for the Eastern Conference was supposed to be about the supremacy of the retooled Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. A glance at the standings reveals that much has held to form, with Boston atop the East and Cleveland at No. 3
(3 1/2 games behind the Toronto Raptors).
How the teams got to this point has been a unique journey, with Boston starting off 0-2 -- including a season-opening loss to Cleveland
-- before rattling off 16 straight wins. Cleveland started off 5-7
, but then went on a 13-game win streak to get back in the thick of the East chase. Tonight's showdown in Boston could say much about the state of the East and, perhaps, could serve as another springboard for either squad.
To Celtics coach Brad Stevens, reflecting on that season-opening loss to Cleveland hasn't had much merit -- in particular because it was the game in which Gordon Hayward suffered his season-ending injury
. As both teams continue to grow in 2017-18, the Celtics know the Cavs remain a measuring stick for Boston, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald
“I think that’s probably fair to say,” Al Horford said. “They’re the ones who have won the East all these years in a row. We know what we have. It will be a good game for us to play the right way and grow as a team.”
“Well, it was the first game of the season. When Gordon went down, that definitely was a traumatic time for everybody, so (we) kind of overlooked it in a sense,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said. “But we prepare for them just like we prepare for anybody. We have to just do a good job of coming out and being ready and matching their energy. I don’t think anybody on this team has any type of fear. I think everybody’s even-keeled about this game. I think we think we’re a better team. And we just want to come out and show it.”
As for who the Cavs are at this point, there’s not much need for explanation.
“They’re an NBA team in the Eastern Conference. What are they, second or third? They’re just a team that went to the Finals, the Eastern Conference champs,” Brown said. “So we view them as a team that comes in, we know they’re good, we know they have a lot of historic players. We just have to come out and compete. We don’t want to come out on our floor and give up anything easy.”
As for the Cavaliers, they are riding a high after seeing Isaiah Thomas' debut for them last night
after months of hip injury rehab. Thomas will not play in tonight's game as he has not yet been cleared to play in back-to-back games.
Cleveland acquired Thomas in a blockbuster offseason deal with the Celtics
that sent Cavs All-Star Kyrie Irving to Boston. Irving had said earlier this week he expected Celtics fans to laud Thomas
, the star of Boston's team the last few seasons and an All-Star himself. The cheers may be there for Thomas tonight, but won't be is a video tribute by the Celtics.
Thomas cancelled that tribute himself, a move a Celtics spokesman told reporters about Tuesday. While the spokesman was not able to clarify why Thomas made that request, the Cavs guard clarified the move later in the day in responding to a tweet that accused him of egoism.
“Get over myself huh?” he tweeted. “Because I would like to actually PLAY & have my family in the arena to appreciate the LOVE the city/organization will show US? It ain’t about me it’s about my family.”
The Celtics are planning to honor Thomas at a later date, but the next Cavs-Celtics in Boston game falls on Feb. 11 -- the date the team will retire Paul Pierce's No. 34 jersey
Another player acquired in the Irving trade, forward Jae Crowder, is hoping he gets a warm reception from the Boston crowd as well. Known as a defensive stalwart for the Celtics during his 2 1/2 seasons, Crowder felt 'disrespected' last season when fans cheered Hayward
, who was then with the Utah Jazz and a known free-agent target of Boston.
“Fans have cheered for opposing team’s players before,” he told the Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn.
“I feel like they should do the same for me because I gave them a lot. I hope they give me a little cheer.”
The Cavaliers held off the Celtics in the first game of the 2017-18 season.