BOSTON — The sequence was a tiny glimpse of what the Boston Celtics might eventually become. Early in the first quarter of Kyrie Irving‘s first game in green, he ran a little give-and-go with Al Horford, who threaded a bounce pass through two Charlotte Hornets defenders that allowed Irving to finish with a two-handed slam.
While there’s still much for Boston’s overhauled roster to smooth out, Irving and fellow big-splash summer acquisition Gordon Hayward eased into game action during their team’s 94-82 triumph over Charlotte on Monday at TD Garden.
Irving finished with 9 points on 4-of-11 shooting with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a turnover in 19 minutes, 22 seconds of floor time in the first half. Hayward posted 5 points on 2-of-6 shooting with five rebounds over 16:37.
One day after gushing about the opportunity to play on the Garden floor when the Celtics held an open practice for season-ticket holders, Irving admitted he’s still getting used to the “newness” and didn’t really think about being nervous for his Boston game debut.
“You know what it felt like, it was just so wide out there,” said Irving. “I don’t know if you even understand what I’m saying, like when we start off the game, like my eyes were just wide. And the basket was a little bit smaller and things were just a lot bigger than what they are. And that’s just literally not playing basketball on an NBA floor for a few months.
“So I was taking in all that newness before I could even get so nervous and anxious. I know that will come when we play the Bucks [in Boston’s regular-season opener later this month]. As you can see, I’m ready for that.”
Irving was the final Celtics player announced during starter introductions. Wearing a white Celtics warm-up shirt, he stood out while passing through a sea of green-clad teammates, who erupted into a mosh pit as Irving reached the end of the line. Celtics fans, many of them already clad in Irving’s No. 11 jerseys and T-shirts, saved their biggest roar for him.
Irving missed a little floater in the lane on his first shot attempt but got the rebound and kicked out to Hayward, who misfired on a 3-point shot.
Irving hit his first shot with an 18-foot jumper with 8:43 to play in the first quarter. A short time later, he ran the give-and-go with Horford and finished with a two-handed flush over a scrambling Nicolas Batum.
Soon after, Irving exploded past Kemba Walker while crashing the baseline and finished with a left-handed floater over Batum.
Irving reveled in the way Boston’s first unit moved the ball, even as it struggled to make shots in the first half.
“[Ball movement] was awesome, man. Beautiful to be a part of,” said Irving. “It was beautiful to watch. Purposeful cuts, understanding what we were trying to do, offensively and defensively, which is executing at a high level.”
Hayward missed four of the six shots he took but also had quality looks. His best sequence might have come when, after getting engulfed by four teal jerseys while driving to the basket, Hayward kicked the ball out to a wide-open Horford for a 3-pointer.
On Twitter after the game, Hayward wrote, “Quite a thrill to be out there in front of the [TD Garden] faithful tonight! Thank you [Celtics] fans!”
Neither Hayward nor Irving played in the second half. Irving was seated next to Boston’s coaches on the bench and cheered for teammates, even performing a little shimmy dance after rookie Jayson Tatum — another Duke product — hit a midrange jumper early in the third quarter.
Boston signed Hayward to a four-year, $127 million contract in early July.
The Celtics brought back only four players from last season’s team that won an East-best 53 games before bowing to Irving’s former team — the Cavaliers — in the conference finals. Irving recognizes the biggest challenge moving forward is getting all the new faces on the same page.
“We understand we have a lot of weapons, some depth on our team,” said Irving. “And [Celtics coach] Brad [Stevens] does a great job of rotating us in and out, but once we get used to knowing where guys are going to be on the floor and knowing where we like the basketball, and understanding the offense in its totality of knowing where guys are going to be, especially me as a point guard leading out there.
“You know, one example is seeing Al get the rebound and push out. And I’m underneath crashing the boards, waiting for the defensive rebound and Al’s all the way at half court already. I’m like, ‘OK, that’s something I’ve gotta get used to right there.’ Just he’s pushing the pace and then as well as Gordon being an open cutter, as well as Marcus [Smart] and Terry [Rozier] and guys that I’m going to be playing with, end of the shot clock, and just replaying it in my head already as you can see, of things that we can get better at. But we did some great things tonight. But obviously it was just another preseason game in my seven-year career. First one down, three more to go, which I’m excited for.”