Irv­ing’s Celtics ea­ger to em­brace favourites’ tag

The Star (Jamaica) - - SPORTS -

The band is back to­gether in Bos­ton. Or, at least, it’s healthy again. Hopes were high for the Celtics go­ing into last sea­son thanks to a re­vamped ros­ter that in­cluded All-Star additions Kyrie Irv­ing and Gor­don Hay­ward.

Every­thing changed five min­utes into the sea­son with Hay­ward’s grue­some leg in­jury. Ex­pec­ta­tions changed again late in the sea­son when Irv­ing was also lost for the year fol­low­ing a pair of knee surg­eries.

With­out them, Bos­ton fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with 55 wins and made the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals. A Game 7 loss to the Cleve­land Cava­liers ended a play­off run that saw vet­eran lead­er­ship from Al Hor­ford, the emer­gence of Jayson Ta­tum and Jaylen Brown as bud­ding stars, and growth from Terry Rozier and Mar­cus Smart.

Celtics pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions Danny Ainge was able to keep the group in­tact dur­ing the off­sea­son, re-sign­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble as­set in Smart.

This pre­sea­son brought more wel­come news when Irv­ing pub­licly pro­claimed his de­sire to stay in Bos­ton. He stood at mid­court at the TD Gar­den and told a group of sea­son ticket hold­ers: “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-sign­ing here.”

The col­lec­tion of tal­ent makes the Celtics pre­sump­tive favourites in the East with LeBron James no longer lurk­ing in Cleve­land.

Coach Brad Stevens said that his job would be to har­ness the en­ergy on this ros­ter, not re­strict what guys do.

“We don’t want to set lim­its or ceil­ings on peo­ple,” he said.

It was made “very clear,” Irv­ing said that dur­ing his time in Cleve­land that he wasn’t the face of the fran­chise. En­ter­ing his eighth NBA sea­son, he has openly re­ferred to him­self as the leader of this young Celtics team.

His team­mates, in­clud­ing Hor­ford, are happy to grant that stature to the five-time All-Star who won a ti­tle with Cleve­land. Irv­ing said that be­ing around a group so hun­gry drives him.

“It gives me a lot of con­fi­dence as the quar­ter­back of the team,” Irv­ing said.

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