Boston Celtics hoping to turn NBA London into a sea of green

Kyrie Irving NBA London

Kyrie Irving drew first blood ahead of NBA London – as the Boston Celtics vowed to turn the O2 Arena into a sea of green.

Irving scored a game-high 34 points in a 108-97 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at the TD Garden Thursday night.

The Celtics and Sixers do not face each other again until the London game, the league’s eighth regular-season game in the capital.

It’s officially designated a home game for the Philadelphia outfit, but with Boston the bigger draw as a team with a record 17 championships, the Celtics are expecting to feel at home.

Coach Brad Stevens said: “When we went over to Madrid and Milan a few years ago we were blown away by all the Celtics jerseys. This is a pretty darn popular brand.”

Celtics President Rich Gotham said: “When we played in London in 2007 the place was full of Celtics jerseys. It was eye-opening for us.

“It’s technically Philly’s home game but we’ll see who’s got the most jerseys when we get over there.”

Owner Wycliffe Grousbeck added: “If we played in the Philippines we could fill a million-person arena. We’ve got fans all over the world.

“They go crazy for us in Spain because of the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Larry Bird.

“We remember coming over to London in 2007, which is the season we ended up winning the NBA championship with Paul Pierce, and we insisted on coming back!

“We’re very superstitious here. We love coming to London.”

The Celtics fancied their chances of adding an 18th championship this season after signing Irving, a 2016 winner, and free agent star Gordon Hayward this summer.

Their plans took a huge knock when Hayward then broke his leg and dislocated his ankle six minutes into their season opener against the Cavs.

But somehow they managed to respond to that setback by going on a 16-game winning streak, beginning against the 76ers, to amass the best record in the NBA.

Irving has been a key factor in that success, but just as important are veteran big man Al Horford and rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Gotham said: “Even with the best expectations we didn’t think we’d be where we are. We have 11 new players on the roster.

“On opening night we lost one of our big offseason acquisitions and at that point in time we thought things might be a little difficult for a while.

“But to come out and show the resiliency and win 16 straight in our league, the excitement has been fun.”

Horford had 21 points and Tatum had 15 as Boston overcame an error-strewn start to overwhelm an under-strength Sixers team missing rising star Joel Embiid.

But Stevens paid tribute to top scorer Irving afterwards, saying: “We say all the time how spoilt we are to coach players at this level and he’s certainly one of the most gifted scorers in the game.

“He can do things just with a tiny amount of space and make it look easy when it’s really, really tough. He has a special ability.”

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