It’s Best of West ver­sus Beast of East

War­riors pumped to face siz­zling Celts in trip opener

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Carl Ste­ward cstew­ard@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

OAK­LAND >> Sorry, LeBron James, but the NBA won’t have to wait un­til Christ­mas Day this year to see the first big East-West clash of con­fer­ence ti­tans. The big gift is com­ing early.

While the War­riors do play the Cleve­land Cava­liers, their NBA Fi­nals op­po­nent the past three sea­sons, on Christ­mas again this year, there is much more an­tic­i­pa­tion for Golden State’s Thurs­day night meet­ing with the Bos­ton Celtics.

The Cava­liers are scuf­fling along at 7-7, while the Celtics are the run­away lead­ers of the East­ern Con­fer­ence, rid­ing a 13-game win streak af­ter Tues­day night’s vic­tory in Brook­lyn.

The War­riors, mean­while, will en­ter TD Gar­den

at 11-3 and on a se­v­engame roll.

War­riors coach Steve Kerr ac­tu­ally seemed to be a bit ex­hil­a­rated to be crank­ing up the hype ma­chine for a stout op­po­nent other than the Cava­liers. He gushed that this should be a thrilling jun­ket for his club with sub­se­quent stops in Philadel­phia, Brook­lyn and Ok­la­homa City to fol­low up the big Bos­ton show­down.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited for

this trip,” said Kerr on Tues­day af­ter the team’s fi­nal home prac­tice. “Bos­ton will be elec­tric the way they’re play­ing, with that crowd. Ob­vi­ously, Ok­la­homa City will be emo­tional still, and it’s al­ways fun to play in Philadel­phia and New York. Bas­ket­ball hot­beds, great crowds … it’s go­ing to be a re­ally fun trip.”

The War­riors def­i­nitely will be road-tested over the next three weeks. Aside from a brief stop at home in late November, when they will play three games in four nights and then hit the trail once again, nine of the next 12 games will be away from Or­a­cle Arena.

They might as well start the cross-coun­try odyssey off with a bang, and this earl­y­sea­son meet­ing with Bos­ton def­i­nitely fills that bill.

De­spite los­ing star freeagent ac­qui­si­tion Gor­don Hay­ward just min­utes into his de­but and drop­ping their first two games, the Celtics have been scin­til­lat­ing ever since. En­ter­ing Thurs­day, they led the league in team de­fense, al­low­ing just 94 points per game, and had also lim­ited their op­po­nents to the low­est shoot­ing per­cent­age (42.8) and fourth-low­est 3-point per­cent­age (32.1).

That makes for an in­trigu­ing test against a War­riors team that leads the NBA in of­fense and av­er­ages 119.6 points a con­test, shoot­ing a gaudy leaguebest 52.0 per­cent over­all and 41.3 from 3-point range.

Kerr doesn’t think Bos­ton’s as­tound­ing de­fen­sive num­bers are a fluke, and that the War­riors will get a stern test from a deep, ver­sa­tile ros­ter much like his own un­der highly re­garded young coach Brad Stevens. He also be­lieves this could be the be­gin­ning of a long se­ries of show­downs be­tween the War­riors and Celtics.

“It sure looks (like) Bos­ton is the team of the fu­ture in the East,” Kerr said. “Their as­sets, their young tal­ent, their coach­ing, and Kyrie (Irv­ing) is amaz­ing. That looks like a team that’s go­ing to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the fu­ture is to be de­ter­mined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.”

To be sure, for­mer Cava­liers star Irv­ing, who is lead­ing the team in scor­ing, is just lead­ing, pe­riod. Many ob­servers be­lieve his all-around game has never been bet­ter.

“I just think it’s his team,” Kerr said. “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.”

• War­riors guard Stephen Curry was back on the prac­tice court Tues­day af­ter sit­ting out the club’s vic­tory Mon­day night over Or­lando.

Curry, who is nurs­ing a deep thigh bruise suf­fered in a col­li­sion Satur­day night against Philadel­phia, went through his usual shoot­ing reg­i­men dur­ing a light prac­tice, and Kerr said Curry should be OK for Bos­ton.

“He looked good,” Kerr said. “We didn’t prac­tice hard today, but he’s fine. He’s prob­a­ble for Thurs­day un­less he has a set­back the next cou­ple of days.”

The War­riors are sched­uled to de­part for the East Coast early Wednesday and hold a work­out shortly af­ter their ar­rival.

TIM BRAD­BURY — GETTY IM­AGES

Coach Brad Stevens’ Celtics will bring a 13-game win streak into Thurs­day night’s game in Bos­ton against the War­riors.

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