Paul Pierce: Kyrie Irving 'can impact this team in a major way'

Paul Pierce: Kyrie Irving 'can impact this team in a major way'

BOSTON – It took more than a decade for Paul Pierce to win an NBA title in Boston.
But he will be the first to tell you that the wait was worth it.
He knows better than most how special it is to win a championship in this title-starved city, to be the go-to man for a team in pursuit of that oh-so-elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
Which is why you can count Pierce among those who believe that new Celtic Kyrie Irving is more than ready to step into those shoes as Boston’s main guy and do what hasn’t been done since the days when Pierce wore Celtics Green – win an NBA title.


“Kyrie can impact this team in a major way,” Pierce said in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely. “You saw what Isaiah Thomas was able to do. A lot of people, even though Isaiah averaged more points, a lot of people believe Kyrie is a better scorer.”
Thomas, who was part of the trade with Cleveland that sent Irving to Boston, ranked third in the NBA in scoring last season with a 28.9 points per game average – tops among all players in the East.
Irving is also coming off a banner season in which he posted career highs in several categories, including points (25.2), field goal percentage (.473) and free throw shooting percentage (.905).
Cavs general manager Koby Altman had nothing but praise for Irving earlier this month during Cleveland’s introduction of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic at the team’s practice facility.
“He (Irving) made tremendous contributions to this franchise and this city,” Altman said. “He was here six years and he became a champion here and he helped us win a championship in spectacular fashion. And so, I think we owe him a thank you and we owe him a debt of gratitude and we'll always be thankful for his exciting years with the Cavaliers.”
Making Irving’s play even more impressive was how he was able to stand out among the best in the NBA, despite playing alongside LeBron James who is widely considered the best player on the planet.
 “If you can average 25 points, 26 points and you got LeBron James on your team, that’s pretty impressive,” Pierce said.
With Cleveland, James was often the primary facilitator while Irving played off the ball  more but with the ball in hand, Irving frequently took his defender off the dribble with drives into the lane which was a major factor in his 8.3 points scored in the paint per game which according to nba.com/stats, ranked 10th among all guards in the NBA last season.
But no James means that the Celtics offense will often begin with Irving as the initiator, a role that will test the balancing act all great scorers have between creating their own shot versus creating shots for others.
He averaged 5.8 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.32 which ranked seventh among all NBA guards who appeared in as many games (72) last season as Irving.
In Boston, Irving joins a team with a pair of fellow All-Stars (Al Horford and Gordon Hayward) who while talented, aren’t as explosive off the dribble as the 25-year-old Irving who has already been named to four All-Star teams.
“He’s going to be the guy,” Pierce said. “He has championship experience. He’s still young and he’s got some other guys to play with.”
In addition to Horford and Hayward, Irving will also be instrumental in leading Boston’s next wave of impact players that will likely be led by second-year wing player Jaylen Brown as well as rookie Jayson Tatum who was selected by Boston with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
As talented as Brown and Tatum are, they will benefit greatly from the wisdom and guidance of a proven veteran like Irving who is still relatively young.
“He was ready for this type of role, to be the lead guy,” Pierce said. “He’s learned a lot under LeBron’s tutelage. He’s ready to share that with his teammates and possibly bring another championship to Boston.”


Celtics bench needs to keep improving


Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.


This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.


 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.


Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.


This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.


Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.


Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.


In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”