INDEPENDENCE — Kevin Love loved playing with Kyrie Irving for three seasons and hated going against him in practice.
Love doesn’t expect that to change tonight when the Cavaliers host Irving and the Boston Celtics in the season opener at The Q.
“We all know Kyrie is a gamer,” Love said Sunday. “Between the lines it’s going to be a fight, especially opening night. The crowd is going to be into it, a lot of emotions there.”
The fans’ emotion might not match what it was like the first time James came to The Q in December 2010 after joining the Miami Heat. That night security was heavy behind the Heat bench. The crowd chanted, “Akron Hates You.” James did his signature powder toss, adding to the pregame animosity.
But after demanding to be traded to escape James’ shadow and the Cavs accommodating his wishes on Aug. 22, Irving fanned the flames. Before a preseason game last week in Charlotte, Irving seemed to insult the city of Cleveland.
Talking to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Irving spoke of the energy and night life in Boston and called it “a real, live sports city.”
Love believes the Cavs will band together in the heat of Irving’s return, as will the Celtics.
“Whether it was LeBron going back (while) playing in Miami or myself going back to Minnesota, different guys that we have come from different places, you always have the acknowledgement that you kind of protect your guys and you know that you’re on their side and you’re going to fight for them,” Love said. “I’m sure it’s no different in both locker rooms. We expect that, but also we’ve got to go out there and win the basketball game.”
Of more urgency may be the Cavs’ challenge of defending Irving, whom Cavs coach Tyronn Lue once described as unstoppable. Last season Irving averaged 25.2 points and shot .473 from the field and .905 from the free-throw line, all career-highs.
“He’s still unstoppable. He’s still the same player. Just with a different team,” Lue said after practice Sunday at Cleveland Clinic Courts “He has no offensive weaknesses, so that’s all I can say.”
Jae Crowder spent the last three seasons with the Celtics before being traded to the Cavs, along with point guard Isaiah Thomas and center Ante Zizic, in the Irving deal. Crowder was subdued when discussing his feelings about facing his former team.
“It was already understood when I talked to those guys. They told me the direction of the team and I was cool with it. Nothing more than that,” Crowder said.
The Celtics won 53 games a year ago to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but lost in the conference finals to the Cavs when Thomas sat out the final three games with a torn labrum in his right hip. In the offseason they traded for Irving and Marcus Morris, giving up two-time All-NBA defender Avery Bradley in the latter deal. They signed free agent Gordon Hayward and added center Aron Baynes. (Morris, a forward, is expected to miss the first week with the season with knee soreness, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Sunday).
Asked if he was shocked the Celtics made so many changes, Crowder said, “I was, but now I’m not. I’m over it. I’ve moved on,” Crowder said. “I’m with a great group of guys who have worked very, very hard each day we’ve been at practice. It’s been fun to be around.”
Thomas is out until perhaps the end of December. Speaking Saturday during a taping of the “Road Trippin’?” podcast with Crowder, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, Thomas said, “I just can’t wait to play. On Tuesday, I wish I was playing.”
Thomas recently told Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated that he might not ever talk to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge again.
Thomas was asked by Crowder during the podcast if he would hug Ainge if he approaches him Tuesday.
“I’ve already said what I’m doing. I’m going to keep pushin’ like he kept pushin’ when he traded me,” Thomas said, explaining he meant he’d keep moving. “There’s no bad … I’m not going to disrespect him; he’s a man and I’m a man, too. I’m going to go my way. I play for the Cavaliers and that’s what it is.”
Thomas said during the podcast that people took his comments about Ainge the wrong way.
“I understand the business, I understand we’re in position to get traded. It’s just how it went down that I didn’t respect,” Thomas said. “As a man, if you respected me as much as you say you did, you would have at least informed me about what was going on before it happened. That’s all I was talking about.
“I’m not trippin’ off the trade. I got traded to the Cavs and we’re going to win a championship. He sent me to an even better situation with a bigger platform, and I’m blessed to be in this position and I’m grateful and I’m excited.”
Crowder said during training camp the Celtics pointed toward the Cavs as their rival. After the trade, that feeling could be mutual now.
“I think it adds another layer to that,” Love said. “Boston has been a team that’s continued to get better and they were there in the Eastern Conference finals last year against us. I don’t know if rival is the right word, but they’re right up there, if not the main competitor with us in the East and there’s a few other teams in there we’re going to fight with. Boston seems to keep getting better.”
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