Warriors, Celtics ready for early showdown

BOSTON -- It?s early, but is Thursday night?s game at TD Garden a preview of the NBA Finals?

The rebuilt Boston Celtics, who lost Gordon Hayward for the season in the first quarter of the first game, then lost two straight before reeling off 13 straight victories, host the champion Golden State Warriors in an early season spectacular.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers struggling and their former No. 2 star Kyrie Irving now leading Boston, the Celtics have emerged as a very real candidate to make it out of the East.

They are No. 1 in the NBA in defense and won their 13 straight by an average of 8.1 points -- coming from 18 points down in two of the victories.

?It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie is amazing,? Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Tuesday?s practice. ?That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that?s to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.

?They?re really sound, and they?re motivated. It?s a team that?s been on the rise the last couple of years. They lost in the conference finals. They want to win a championship, and it looks like it. Even without Gordon Hayward and that awful injury, Boston is just crushing people. So, it?s going to be really fun to go against them on Thursday. We know how tough it?s going to be.?

Says Celtics coach Brad Stevens, in his usual tone of downplaying things: ?We have to stay in the moment and be as good as we can be. And then we?ll see what the future holds.?

The Warriors (11-3, 5-1 on the road) have won their seven straight by an average of 19.8 points.

The Celtics, which returned only four players from last year?s Eastern Conference finalist, is anything but broken as it chases its first 14-game winning streak since 2010. The franchise record is 19.