Are the Celtics relying too much on Kyrie Irving?

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Are the Celtics relying too much on Kyrie Irving?

LOS ANGELES – When it comes to scoring, Kyrie Irving ranks among the best in the NBA.

The dude dropped 25-plus points per game a year ago in Cleveland playing with LeBron James, a feat none of James’ other all-star caliber teammates – not Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – could do. 

MORE - Irving: C's must 'weather the storm'

Being that good at scoring, and doing so with the kind of ball-handling flare that he brings to the game, can be captivating. 

That’s a good thing, unless those watching are your teammates. 

Following Boston’s 103-95 loss to Orlando, a game in which Irving scored 40 points while taking just 23 shots (with 14 makes), it raised questions as to whether the Celtics at times rely too much on their best scorer. 

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Kyrie was being Kyrie. We were trying to make plays as well. We just came up short.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens also shot down talk of the team depending too much on Irving whose 24.5 points per game ranks 11th in the NBA. 

“I think we all have to play better,” Stevens said. 

Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 103-95 loss to the Orlando Magic.

 

TATUM BREAKOUT COMING?

Jayson Tatum is still putting up decent numbers for a rookie, but he hasn’t had the same chilling effect on defenses that we saw through the first 30 or so games. In the lost to the Magic, Tatum was just 4-for-11 shooting from the field, for the second straight game. And it was the third straight game in which he made less than five field goals. The 19-year-old has only had one other stretch like that (Oct. 30 – Nov. 3) this season. So by the numbers and the opponent, it should come as no surprise if Tatum has one of his better games this month, on Tuesday against the Lakers.

 

BENCH SCORING

When the Celtics face teams with a starting five that leads to Marcus Morris being in Boston’s starting lineup, prepare for the bench scoring to take an Enron-like dive. Against the Magic, Boston’s bench scored a total of just eight points on 4-for-19 shooting. The player responsible for most of those misses, Terry Rozier, has to be better than what we saw against Orlando when he missed eight of his nine shot attempts. His value is always key to the bench, but even more so when Morris isn’t with the second unit. 

 

EARLY FOULS

One area Boston would like to improve upon is picking up early fouls on shot attempts. In the first quarter of the Orlando loss, Boston committed five personal fouls total while the Magic were whistled for three. However, the Magic was 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the first quarter while the Celtics’ lone free throw attempt came on technical foul call against Evan Fournier. 

 

NEW YEAR, MORE OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES

While Sunday’s loss to Orlando may have seemed a bit out of character for Boston offensively, it was actually consistent with what we’ve seen from the Green Team this month. The Celtics came into the Orlando game averaging 97.8 points in January (they had 95 against the Magic), shooting 30.4 percent on 3’s (they made 29.6 percent against Orlando) while committing 14.7 turnovers per game (they had 15 against the Magic).

 

JAYLEN BROWN

It was easy to overlook Jaylen Brown’s play having come in the same game Kyrie Irving goes off for 40 points. But there was a lot to like about how Brown played against Orlando. Like many of his teammates, Brown played with a much greater motor in the fourth quarter than he did through the previous three, but it was by and large a solid night for the second-year player. He had 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds while playing more minutes (37) than all Celtics except for Irving who played 40 minutes.

Celtics hope West Coast swings momentum back in their favor

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Celtics hope West Coast swings momentum back in their favor

LOS ANGELES – In the aftermath of Boston’s 103-95 loss to Orlando, the Boston Celtics did their best to maintain their “on to the next one” mentality.

It’s pretty easy to do when the wins pile up like New England snowbanks.

But that’s not where this team is right now … not even close.

They have lost three in a row for the first time this season, which in itself isn’t all that big a deal.

But it’s how the losses have come about.

The 116-13 overtime loss to New Orleans on Tuesday had a lot to do with a monster game by Anthony Davis. And Boston's 89-80 loss to Philadelphia had more to do with an anemic offense. On Sunday, it was one horrific third quarter of play (Boston was outscored 32-12 in the third) that dwarfed the other three.

The bottom line is simple: the Celtics are not playing good basketball and unlike earlier stretches when that was the case, the pathway to victory of late has been a dead end.

Now comes another challenge – taking their talents out West for four games beginning with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown said his approach to this upcoming trip isn’t all that different than how he has approached previous games.

“Look at the film, see how we can play better, like we always do, win or lose, and try and come out and get a ‘W,’” Brown said.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments.

"One game at a time; one meeting at a time,” Stevens said. “Everything else, we’ll figure out how to play better.”

The Celtics (34-13) are in no position to approach any of these games, even against the struggling Lakers (17-29), as a matchup they can just show up and victory will fall in their lap.

“Once we get into games, we have to understand teams are coming for us, said Al Horford. “I’ve felt like we handled it okay throughout the season, but it’s even more evident now.”

Indeed, the Celtics have been among the teams in not just the East but the NBA, that most of the league’s teams have been trying to catch up to this season.

Even with three straight losses, Boston still has a two-game lead in East over Toronto (31-14) and have the third-best overall record in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors (37-10) and Houston Rockets (32-12).

And while Boston will surely be challenged during its four-game trip out West, the Celtics have every reason to believe they will find success most nights.

For starters, Boston has a 12-3 record against the Western Conference this season  - tops among all teams in the East - which includes wins over the top five teams (Golden State; Houston; San Antonio; Minnesota and Oklahoma City) in the Western Conference.

And of the four teams on the docket – Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State and Denver – Boston has a perfect 3-0 record with the only team they have yet to play being the Clippers.

I asked Kyrie Irving how does the three-game losing streak change the mindset of the Celtics heading out West.

“It definitely puts a huge emphasis on the next game,” he said. “What we have to do to put ourselves in great position to win at the end of the day. We’re going to be playing against some hungry teams out in the Western Conference. They’ve come in here and played pretty well against us except for the Clippers. So, this is great for a young developing team like we have. And it’s fun. You can learn so much more about each other. Not that we didn’t learn anything after these last three losses, but going on the road is a test.”

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Irving: Struggling Celtics must 'weather the storm'

Irving: Struggling Celtics must 'weather the storm'

BOSTON – While it’s too soon to hit the panic button on the Boston Celtics’ season, Sunday’s 103-95 loss to Orlando is disturbing on multiple fronts. 

For starters, the Magic (14-32) have been in the NBA basement most of the season, so for them to see the light towards victory, on the road nonetheless, against the Celtics is bothersome for the Green Team. 

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Boston came into Sunday’s game with an impressive 17-3 record against teams with a sub-.500 record.

Making matters even worst, it was Boston’s third straight loss – a first for the Celtics this season - with all three defeats coming at the TD Garden. 

Celtics big man Al Horford said the team needs a “Fight for our lives’” mentality heading into Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

While no one wants to lose game, having to overcome some hurdles along the journey isn’t always a bad thing.

“Gotta have some adversity,” said Kyrie Irving who led all scorers with 40 points - the second time he has reached the 40-point plateau this season (47 points, Nov. 20 at Dallas). “We need it as a team. There’s a lot more adversity down the road. You have to be able to weather the storm no matter what.”

Aside from Gordon Hayward’s dislocated ankle injury in the season-opener, dropping three straight is probably the biggest adversity the Celtics have had this season. 

And this latest setback came against an Orlando franchise that the Celtics have absolutely owned at home. 

Prior to Sunday’s loss, Boston had not lost to the Magic at home since Feb. 7, 2010 with 14 straight wins.

"We didn't underestimate them," said Boston's Jaylen Brown who had 17 points. "They've been playing a lot better than they've been playing all year."

Al Horford echoed similar sentiments.

“You can’t underestimate any team,” Horford said. “I don’t think we necessarily did, but we need to have that sense of urgency like we started the game and be able to hold that throughout the game. That’s important.”

So is making the most of transition scoring opportunities which was an area of play in which the Celtics struggled mightily all game. 

Boston wound up with six, fast-break points on just 3-for-9 shooting. 

“We had some transition opportunities that we didn’t covert,” acknowledged Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. 

Failing to capitalize on those easy scoring opportunities came back to hurt Boston and in hindsight, proved to be one of the key differences in the game’s outcome. 

“Whether you’re doing things at an optimum level as you would like, that’s part of the game of learning one another,” Irving said. “Being able to figure out how to respond from that. Us as a group, we’ve come together in the last four months, five months, it’s new. We need to hit something like this in order for us to grow. It’s part of the game; part of being on a team, part of being a professional. Any team, any environment, you have to have stuff like this where you have to figure it out.”

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