Kyrie Irving: Celtics fans will show Isaiah Thomas 'nothing but love'

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving showered Isaiah Thomas with praise in advance of his return to game action and said that regardless of whether he plays or not when the Cleveland Cavaliers visit TD Garden on Wednesday night, Irving expects Thomas will be showered with affection.

The Celtics traded Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick and the Miami Heat's 2020 second-round pick to the Cavaliers in exchange for Irving in August.

With Thomas set to make his season debut soon after missing the start of the season with the hip injury that forced him out of the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers last season, Irving gushed about what Thomas gave to Boston.

"That guy put on some performances, epic performances," Irving said. "And, for the city of Boston, what he gave on a consistent basis, you were just wondering how that tough-nosed m-----f----- was just getting it done every single night and demanding from his teammates and playing with an edge that really cemented himself as a premier player in this league.

"And you're just nothing short of happy for a guy like that. And whether or not he plays, it's going to be nothing but love for him from Boston."

Irving has helped the overhauled Celtics to a 30-10 start to the 2017-18 season. After Sunday's win over the visiting Nets, the Celtics sat atop the Eastern Conference with a four-game lead over the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers defeated the Celtics in the NBA's season-opener, which also served as Irving's first game back in Cleveland.

Asked about the rematch, Irving said, "Just looking forward to the challenge. It's another great test for us."

The Celtics were about as healthy as they've been Sunday, getting back starter Jaylen Brown after a two-game absence due to a knee injury. But Irving was quick to point out the one star the team is missing in injured Gordon Hayward, who was hurt minutes into Boston's season-opener in Cleveland.

"Except missing another franchise cornerstone [Hayward] that's still cheering us on," Irving said. "But in terms of the guys that are available, just I feel like we're rounding out at the right time in terms of getting healthy and getting back into the swing of things."

The Celtics have played a league-high 40 games this season. The schedule eases after next week when the team gets a bit of a break while traveling to London to play the Philadelphia 76ers.

Boston gets two days off before Cleveland visits.

"[The Cavaliers are] playing well, we're playing well. It's going to be a dog fight," Marcus Morris said. "Win or lose, we still have a lot of games. They come in here, we owe them one. Beat us there, but it's going to be a good game. I'm very excited. A lot of energy. The crowd is going to be on. It's going to be a good game in 2018."

The Cavaliers play the first night of a back-to-back on Tuesday in Cleveland against the Portland Trail Blazers. If Thomas makes his season debut then, it would be unlikely he would play on the second night of a back-to-back in Boston.