Celtics look to seize the opening
CLEVELAND -- This was an offseason in the NBA unlike any we’ve seen in recent years, one with fireworks seemingly every day. It's become damn near impossible for the casual fan to keep up with what’s going on, with a slew of changes that included seven All-Stars from a year ago now playing elsewhere.
And it wasn’t just bad or mediocre teams shaking things up, either.
Boston and Cleveland were the two best teams in the Eastern Conference last season. But that didn’t stop them from pulling off one of the offseason's many blockbuster deals, in which a pair of All-Star guards (Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas) switched teams in a trade that allowed the Celts and Cavs to strengthen their hold on the top two spots in the East, with the Washington Wizards not too far behind.
Like most of the Opening Night matchups, the storylines for tonight’s game are abundant. But there are a few that just might slip through the cracks of the news cycle and go unnoticed or garner little attention.
Here are five things you may not be thinking about for tonight’s season opener between Boston and Cleveland.
CROWDER RETURNS HOME . . . SORT OF
Prior to being traded to Cleveland as part of the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade, Jae Crowder had played for only teams -- Dallas and Boston. But Crowder’s NBA career actually began as a Cavalier when the Cavs selected him with the 34th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. However, Cleveland immediately traded him to Dallas in a deal that sent Crowder, the 24th overall pick (Jared Cunningham) and the 33rd overall pick (Bernard James) to the Mavericks for the 17th overall pick (Tyler Zeller) and Kelenna Azubuike. Although Crowder was the lowest draft pick in that trade, it’s fair to say he's had the best career in the NBA thus far and still has plenty of room for improvement.
TRIBUTE TO IRVING
Things didn't end on the best of terms between Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers, with the organization granting his trade request this summer. But that won’t stop the Cavs from showing their respect to Irving for his accomplishments in Cleveland during his six NBA seasons, with a video tribute at some point during tonight’s game. There will certainly be a segment of Cleveland fans that will boo him constantly tonight. That’s what fans should do to any player on the opposing team. But that shouldn’t diminish Irving's accomplishments with the Cavs. A four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, Irving’s late-game jumper in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals ranks among the all-time great shots in franchise history.
RARE START FOR A CELTICS ROOKIE
There'll be a rookie -- Jayson Tatum -- in the Celtics’ starting lineup tonight, something you seldom see with Brad Stevens. In fact, Tatum becomes only the second rookie to be in the starting lineup on Opening Night sincer Stevens began coaching Boston in 2013. The first was Vitor Faverani, who got the start at center in '13.
Tonight’s game features a bunch of players who used to play with each other on other teams. But one connection seldom talked about is the one between Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue and Boston’s Al Horford. The two were teammates in 2007-08 season in Atlanta. Horford was a rookie, while Lue was in his 10th NBA season.
GOOD STARTS UNDER STEVENS
Brad Stevens has embraced the idea that the NBA season is more of a marathon than a sprint towards success. But that hasn’t stopped him from finding ways to win at the start of the season. In fact, Boston has a 3-1 Opening Night record under Stevens, which includes wins in each of his last three openers. However, when you consider the three wins were over Brooklyn (twice) and Philadelphia, it’s fair to say tonight’s opener against the Cavs will pose a significantly stiffer challenge to Boston’s straight-out-the-gate success.