On Saturday night, LeBron James threw a temper tantrum at TD Garden. Tonight, another villain returns to Boston.
In the opening game of ESPN’s doubleheader, the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics host the Nets for the first time this season. That of course means Kyrie Irving is back in the building that he once called home for two tumultuous seasons (more on that in a bit). After three straight losses, Boston beat LA over the weekend with major contributions from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The pair are averaging 58.6 points combined over the last three games that they’ve played together.
Unfortunately, there are key players from both sides that will miss tonight’s first round playoff rematch. Kevin Durant will miss his 11th game since spraining his right MCL in his knee. Along with KD, Ben Simmons (left knee soreness) and T.J. Warren (left shin contusion) will also be sidelined. For the Celtics, Marcus Smart remains out with a sprained ankle and Robert Williams is also questionable with an ankle sprain after missing Saturday’s win over the Lakers.
In the west coast night cap, Atlanta travel to the valley of the sun to take on Phoenix as the teams are heading in different directions. Even though they hold nearly identical spots in the respective conference (Hawks are #8 in the East and the Suns 7th in the West), Atlanta are losers of four of their last five and Phoenix has won 6 of their last 7 with Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton returning to the starting lineup.
Phoenix is a 1.5-point favorite hosting the Hawks who are on their second game of a five-game west coast trip. In Boston, the Nets are 8.5-point road dogs with the Celtics on three days rest after their overtime thriller against the Lakers. However, those odds shouldn’t dissuade Kyrie from putting on a show against his former team.
Over the last two games, point guards/forwards have lit up Boston’s fifth-ranked defense. Jalen Brunson scored 29 points and dished out seven assists last week in an overtime win. James nearly had a triple double with 41 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists (and one hissy fit) in a heartbreaking OT loss. What does Irving have up his sleeve against his former teammates?
Even without Smart, head coach Joe Mazzulla can deploy two above average defenders in Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon to slow down Kyrie, but little has gotten in his way of late. Since riding solo without KD, the All-Star starter has been spectacular, averaging 31.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. Our friends at DraftKings have an interesting player prop for tonight’s Nets-Celtics game. They’ve set Irving’s over/under for total points, rebounds, and assists at 41.5 (-120/-110). Rivalry Week was last week, but the Garden should be as raucous Wednesday night as it was welcoming the Knicks and Lakers into town. The question is: will that fuel the feud between Kyrie and the Celtics faithful?
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