After Gordon Hayward went down with a season-ending ankle injury on opening night last season, most lowered their expectations for the Boston Celtics. Then they almost immediately rattled off a 16-game winning streak. Likewise, when Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the postseason after needing knee surgery, few expected the Celtics to go on a deep run. Yet, they were just one win from playing in the NBA Finals. 

After proving everyone wrong on numerous occasions, and showing plenty of toughness in the process, no one is doubting the Celtics coming into this season -- especially considering a healthy Hayward and Irving will be back in the fold. Even Irving himself is getting in on the hype. 

Speaking to legendary reporter Jackie MacMullan, Irving -- who noted his knee is completely healthy -- said the Celtics are building something "special." He also believes the team has what it takes to beat the mighty Golden State Warriors. Via ESPN:

Expectations are soaring for a deep Boston team that thrived on the defensive end last season but missed Irving's offensive artistry once the postseason began. When asked if it would be a disappointment if the Celtics didn't make it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2019, Irving firmly answered, "Yes."

Pressed if he would be disappointed if they didn't win a championship, Irving responded, "Can we beat Golden State in a seven-game series? Yes."

What makes him so sure?

"Because of who we have," Irving answered, "and what we're establishing here, not just for this season, but for hopefully for the next few years, something that's pretty special.

"I've played against Golden State in three straight Finals (2015-17) -- two that I was able to participate in -- and seeing them evolve, with the talent they have, and then adding DeMarcus Cousins [this offseason], it's like 'OK, the whole league is on notice.'

"But there's one factor that they're aware of, and I'm aware of, and that's that I've seen them up close. I've played them so many times. We've gone in a seven-game series [when he was in Cleveland], so I know what it takes.

Now, of course Irving is going to say he believes his team can beat the Warriors. No one in the league is ever going to be scared of another team or just give up before the season even begins. However, in this case, it isn't just pride and optimism. No doubt the Warriors will still be the favorite to win the title again, but the Celtics will have as good of a chance as anyone to take them down. 

They're young, athletic, versatile and tough on the defensive end and have top-tier offensive players in Irving, Hayward and Al Horford. Plus, if there's anyone who knows exactly what it takes to beat the Warriors in the Finals, it's Irving, who played against them for the title three seasons in a row.