Irving's drive to succeed heads down new path without Hayward

Irving's drive to succeed heads down new path without Hayward

BOSTON –  It seems everyone is waiting for that breakout game by Kyrie Irving, that game when he puts the Boston Celtics on his back, carries them to victory and serves as a reminder to everyone why he’s a four-time All-Star despite being just 25 years old.

But here’s the thing.

He understands better than most that being a dominant, high-scoring guard isn’t what this is all about.

Irving loves to win, and he knows winning isn’t easy.


And that challenge of trying to win at a high level is clearly something that excites him.

That’s why the biggest gleam in his eye following Tuesday’s 110-89 win over New York wasn’t when he was talking about Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s growth, or the budding chemistry developing between him and Al Horford.

It was when he talked about being on the road, and how much he loves to play on another team’s home floor.

“I love them; I love them,” Irving said of road games, failing miserably to talk about them and not have an ear-to-ear grin on his face at the same time. “I love playing at home more, but I love road games so much. It’s a test of character and you understand that. When teams go on runs or the calls may kind of be uneven, you’re tested in terms of will, guys in foul trouble or guys in foul trouble early; you never know what can happen in a road game. And that unpredictability is something that is great for building an identity of a team.”

And that is what all of this is about.

Even though Brown and Tatum were the focal points for most following Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, Irving quietly had one of his best games as a Celtic.

He would finish with 20 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but also had seven assists and just three turnovers.

Within the points scored, Irving drained a corner 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock in the third quarter.

Al Horford explained why he passed the ball to Irving with about a second to get a shot off.

“I feel he lives for those moments,” Horford said of Irving.

He does.

His former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, knows this all too well.

It was Irving’s shot in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals that catapulted the Cavaliers to an NBA title, a shot that will be remembered as arguably the greatest in that franchise’s history.

Of course, Irving isn’t going to make every buzzer-beater he takes, but the Celtics have a player who does more than make big shots in the fourth quarter.

Irving makes historically great shots in the fourth quarter, a talent you can’t put a price tag on.

He wants to compete at the highest of levels, and understands that in his travels along the road towards greatness, he can’t make the journey on his own.

Which is why the rapid growth of Boston’s youngsters, like Brown and Tatum, is critical to Boston’s success and Irving’s evolution in Boston.

Brown, who turned 21 on Tuesday, led Boston with 23 points against the Knicks while Tatum chipped in with 22. They became the first duo in Celtics history to score 20 or more points in the same game and be 21 years old or younger at the time.  

Their development will open up more and more opportunities for Irving, something Boston desperately needs after losing Gordon Hayward (left ankle) for the season.

His injury has impacted Irving more than any other Celtic, because what Irving needs to be at his best -- spacing -- was the one thing that Hayward’s presence was going to provide him on a nightly basis.

The Celtics are still searching for the best way to fill that void, with Brown and Tatum looking like the best options now.

Both have shown the ability to contribute at a high level and take some of the pressure off Irving.

But there will come a time when the Celtics will need Irving to dominate.

Rest assured, he’ll be ready.

He was built for this mission, this opportunity, this platform to lead the Celtics in a way that will leave an indelible, unmistakable imprint on the most storied franchise in NBA history.


Kyrie goes back to the mask tonight

Kyrie goes back to the mask tonight

The mask will be back tonight in Atlanta for Kyrie Irving.

The Celtics guard told reporters at the team's shootaround Saturday in preparation for Saturday night's game against the Hawks - where Boston will try and win its 15th in a row - that he'll grudgingly go back to wearing the clear plastic facemask he had been using to protect a facial fracture he suffered last week. 

Irving wore the mask against Brooklyn for a full game earlier in the week then ditched it in the second half of the victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. He shot just 4-for-16 from the field (1-for-5 on 3's) against the Warriors and has made no secret of his disdain for wearing it.  


To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

BOSTON – If you were to deconstruct the building blocks of the Celtics' 14-game winning streak, you would find the foundation lies in what they’re able to accomplish defensively.
And to the Celtics’ credit, their defense has been challenged in a multitude of ways already.


They have managed to beat teams with great one-on-one talent (Golden State), those that rely heavily on athleticism and length (Milwaukee) as well as those that put a premium on sharing the ball (Philadelphia), which will be among the ways Atlanta could potentially challenge the Celtics tonight.
While the Hawks (3-12) have had their struggles this season, it hasn’t necessarily been because of selfish play offensively.
Atlanta averages 327.9 passes per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
The problem hasn’t been getting players the ball; it’s what happens – or doesn’t happen – when they get it.
Despite being a top three passing team, the Hawks average 22.9 assists, 10th in the NBA. And they're connecting on 45.5 percent of their shots from the field, 14th in the league.
For Boston to continue its winning ways, it’ll again be because their defense will have taken away things the Hawks love to do.
When it comes to scoring, Atlanta has been one of the NBA’s best at generating offense off screens.
Despite having an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (104.2) this season, Atlanta has been among the league leaders when it comes to scoring off screens.
In fact, only two NBA teams (Golden State and Cleveland) have generated more points off screens this season than Atlanta (141).
That still shouldn’t be a major issue for the Celtics defense, which allows a league-low 94.1 points per game and has shown the ability to find success against any and every kind of offense.
Here are five below-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between two teams at opposite ends of the success spectrum this season.

It’s one thing to score a bunch of points, but it takes a special player to do it in the latter stages of play, especially against an elite team that knows you’re looking to get points any way possible. We saw Kyrie Irving shrug off a horrible shooting night (4-for-16) in the 92-88 win over Golden State that included him draining all seven of his fourth-quarter free throws. But Irving coming through when the game counts shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. According to NBA.com/stats, Irving is averaging a league-best 5.8 points in “clutch” situations (last five minutes of a game with the margin being five points or less), ahead of notable standouts Damian Lillard (5.0) of Portland who is second and ex-teammate LeBron James (4.6) who ranks behind Irving, Lillard and Miami’s Dion Waiters (4.9).

Although he spent nine seasons in Atlanta, it has been anything but a sweet homecoming for Al Horford statistically speaking. In the four games he has played against his former team, Horford has averaged 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, which are his lowest career scoring and rebounding averages against any team. However, the 5.8 assists he averages against the Hawks represents his highest career average in that category against any team.

His athleticism has always made Jaylen Brown a standout and the way he has shot the ball this season in clutch situations has stood out as well. But what hasn’t been talked much about is his defense against 3-point shooters. NBA.com/stats lists Brown with 67 contested 3’s this season. That's tops in the NBA. And his 4.2 contested 3’s per game rank sixth in the league.

When you see the numbers, it’s clear that much of what the Atlanta Hawks do these days is centered around Dennis Schroder. But upon deeper inspection, it’s apparent that Atlanta is literally driven by the play of the 6-foot-1 point guard. Known for his attacking style of basketball, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s one of the league’s best at getting to the rim. According to NBA.com/stats, Schroder leads the NBA with 19.1 drives per game. The closest Celtic in that category is Irving who averages 9.7 drives per game which ranks 38th in the league.

With Schroder looking to run out in transition as much as possible, Taurean Prince has been more than willing to help fill lanes and provide an option for Schroder to pass to on the break. That has led to lots of spot-up shot opportunities for Prince this season. He comes into tonight’s game averaging 5.4 spot-up possessions per game, which ranks third in the NBA behind Detroit’s Tobias Harris (6.3) and New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins (6.2).