Kyrie: Boston will have ‘nothing but love’ for IT

Kyrie Irving could become a free-agent in 2019.

Even though Isaiah Thomas has yet to make his debut as a Cleveland Cavalier, he will make his first return to TD Garden in Boston when the Cavaliers come to town Wednesday night.

And whether Thomas plays or not, the man he was acquired for along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick and Miami’s second-round selection in 2020, says Thomas will be welcomed like a conquering hero in Beantown.

Kyrie Irving requested and was granted a trade from the Cavaliers and they gave him his wish in August, sending him to Boston.

Irving was not shy in his praise and admiration for the 5-foot-9 Thomas, whose injured right hip forced him to miss the last three games of the Eastern Conference Finals against Irving and his then-Cavalier teammates last spring, won by Cleveland, 4-1.

“That guy put on some performances, epic performances,” Irving told reporters after leading Boston to a 108-105 win over visiting Brooklyn on Sunday. “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.”

It will be an extreme opposite from the reception Irving received when he returned to Quicken Loans Arena on opening night wearing Celtic green. Though he was roundly booed by Cleveland fans that night, Irving has played the biggest role in Boston putting together a 30-10 mark to this point, occupying the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings in the process.

Irving attempted to downplay the narrative of himself facing his former team for the second time.

“Just looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “It’s another great test for us.”

Irving reminded reporters that even though the Celtics welcomed the return of Jaylen Brown to their lineup Sunday after missing two games with a knee injury, Gordon Hayward, Boston’s big offseason free-agent acquisition, suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the first few minutes of the opening game in Cleveland and is out for the season.

“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.”

Boston, which has played more games (40) in the NBA so far this season than any other team, will have two days off before LeBron James and the Cavaliers come calling.

On the flip side, Cleveland (24-12), which trails Boston by four games in the Eastern Conference standings, will be playing at TD Garden on the back end of a back-to-back, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Meaning, if Thomas were to make his Cleveland debut Tuesday against the Blazers, he would not play the next night in Boston as the Cavaliers have already stated they will not be playing Thomas on the second night of back-to-backs. He will also be on a minute restriction once he does return to action.

The chances of Thomas making his season and Cleveland debut in Boston on Wednesday are zero.

Perhaps not being aware Cleveland has lost three in a row and four of its last five, Boston’s Marcus Morris said he expects an epic clash.

“(The Cavaliers are) playing well, we’re playing well,” the veteran forward said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.

“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.”