BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics like the kind of basketball they’ve been playing during their 13-game win streak.
They also know it could easily end on Thursday night when the defending champion Golden State Warriors visit the Garden.
Boston’s prospects for the season took an obvious hit following Gordon Hayward’s gruesome leg injury on opening night, but the Celtics have exceeded expectations thus far without him, becoming the first team in NBA history to win 13 straight after starting the season 0-2. Kyrie Irving has been a scoring force, while Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum have taken advantage of their increased roles.
Toss in veteran Al Horford’s consistent play and the recent return of offseason pickup Marcus Morris, and suddenly the preseason buzz that surrounded this team has returned.
Still, Horford laughed Wednesday at the notion that Thursday’s game could be an NBA Finals preview.
“I’m sure that people are going to float that around,” Horford said. “But we understand we have a long ways to go. And it still is only November.”
Coach Brad Stevens said his biggest concern is making sure his team zeroed in on where it could improve during Wednesday’s video study and walkthrough session.
“Otherwise, we’ll really get exposed,” Stevens said. “There’s a reason why they haven’t played a lot of close games. And it’s because they’re awfully freaking good.”
Boston and Golden State split their two meetings last season, but Golden State was only at full strength for one of those games. The Warriors blew out the Celtics 104-88 last November in Boston, getting a combined 67 points from Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. The Celtics beat the Warriors on the road in March when Durant was out with a knee injury.
The Warriors come in riding a seven-game win streak of their own. Coach Steve Kerr likes what he’s seen of the new-look Celtics.
“They’re motivated,” Kerr said. “This is a team that’s been on the rise the last couple of years. … They want to win a championship. And it looks like it.”
He said he relishes the opportunity to get early-season glimpses at potential challengers from the Eastern Conference. And he expects Boston to contend for years to come.
“It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East,” Kerr said. “That looks like a team that is gonna be at the top of the East for a long time. Whether their time is now or in the future, that’s to be determined.”
Stevens is more concerned about his team’s present.
“The future’s hard to predict and we’ve gotta stay in the moment to become the best version of ourselves,” Stevens said. “And we’ll see what the future holds.”
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.