BOSTON (CBS) — On Friday night, the Celtics will play a game at the TD Garden for the first time in nine months. It will mark the first time that the team takes their home court in front of an empty arena, something they’ll have to get used to for the 2020-21 season.
But that’s not the only first that the team will experience in their exhibition tilt against the Brooklyn Nets. It will also be the first time they’ll see Kyrie Irving as a member of the Nets.
Too bad there won’t be any fans there to greet the former Celtics point guard.
There will be no fans cramming into the seats at TD Garden due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon, either. Celtics players have said that playing in the NBA bubble in Orlando just a few months ago was good practice to get ready for the fan-less settings that await this season, and the league is also trying its best to recreate the lost atmosphere with fake crowd noise and the usual music that blasts as in-game entertainment.
But there is nothing like playing in front of a packed house, which players will certainly miss throughout the new season.
“You can’t replace the presence of fans. The floor is shaking the place is buzzing – you can’t create that without fans,” Boston forward Semi Ojeleye said Friday after the team’s morning shootaround. “We’ll create our own atmosphere, but we’ll miss the fans.”
The Celtics got their first taste of the empty arena experience on Tuesday night, when they played against the 76ers in an empty Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“It was great to play in front of no fans and get used to what that’s like in big arenas,” head coach Brad Stevens said after the team’s loss in Philly. “It’s a much different feeling than it was in the bubble where you’re in a much smaller venue.”
Now the Celtics are ready to play in front of their own empty arena when they play host to the Nets, a date that would have been much bigger on the calendar if Boston fans were allowed to attend Friday night’s game. It will mark the first time that Kyrie Irving will play in Boston since his unceremonious departure from the team last offseason.
Boston fans would have likely had a few things to say to Irving, who just over two years ago said that he intended to sign a max contract with the Celtics. But his feelings on Boston changed throughout the 2018 season, and by the time the Celtics were done getting eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA Playoffs — thanks in large part to a woefully shooting performance by Kryie — Celtics fans didn’t really want Irving back anyways.
Irving is now ready to show off his slick handles and big-shot abilities in a Brooklyn uniform. And with both Irving and Kevin Durant returning after injuries put their team-up on hold for a year, the Nets are contenders in the Eastern Conference.
For the Celtics, Friday night’s game is simply an exhibition against a team they expect to see and hear a lot about this season.
“When you have a player the caliber of Kyrie’s talent, everything changes. The conference gets better, the division gets better, that team only gets better,” Marcus Smart said of Boston’s Atlantic Division foe. “We know what Kyrie is capable of at any give moment. It’s going to take a full team effort, not just on Kyrie but KD as well. They have some really good player around them, so for us, it will take every last one of us.”
Friday night is Boston’s final preseason game before the team opens the regular season Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. Irving and company will be back in Boston next Friday, when the Celtics host the Nets on Christmas Day.