BOSTON – Kyrie Irving’s decision to want out of Cleveland certainly rubbed some NBA folks the wrong way.
He wasn’t one of them.
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While Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City in the summer of 2016 came under very different circumstances (he was a free agent while Irving asked to be traded), he can relate to the blowback from some fans that Irving got initially when his desire to leave the Cavs became public.
“Fans don’t matter when it comes to stuff like that,” Durant said. “Kyrie has to live it every single day and he made a decision that was best for what he wanted. Everybody’s different. You see it's paying off for him.”
Irving and the Celtics (13-2) come into tonight’s game against Golden State (11-3) riding a league-best 13 game winning streak.
Several players have factored into Boston’s historic start (no team has lost their first two games, and bounced back to put together a double-digit winning streak as the Celtics have), but Irving’s contributions have been significant.
The four-time All-Star leads the team in scoring at 20.6 points per game. In addition, he ranks among the league’s leaders in deflections (3.0 per game, eighth in the NBA) as well as steals (1.9, ninth) per game.
But the stat that stands out above all others is winning. In many ways, that helps validate his desire to move on from Cleveland.
“He chose the basketball route; he chose to go somewhere that would maximize his basketball skills,” Durant said. “A lot of people choose different places for different reasons, whether it’s money, whether it’s the city, or opportunity for whatever you want. But he made a basketball move; that’s the most respected move. He stepped into a leadership role and this team has taken off because of it.”
Here are five below-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game pitting the top two teams in the NBA:
COULD HAVE BEEN THE CELTICS
Danny Ainge gets a lot of credit for the trades he has been able to pull off, many of which have been critical to Boston’s ascension to the top of the NBA standings. Still, there are a few players that he missed out on, some of whom will suit up tonight for Golden State. First and foremost was Durant, who included Boston on his short list of possible free agent destinations two summers ago before ultimately deciding to sign with the Warriors. And in 2012, David West opted to sign a two-year, $20 million deal with Indiana rather than a three-year, $29 million deal with Boston. West would later say that Boston’s interest in signing him was “more media than actual substance” but did add that his camp and the Celtics had some discussions about him possibly coming to Boston. One of the bigger head-scratchers came in not signing JaVale McGee in March of 2015. Ultimately the deal fell through because they both sides wanted an option following the 2015-16 season.
GREAT OFFENSE MEETS GREAT DEFENSE
We are about a month into the season and the Celtics are still the leaders in the NBA clubhouse when it comes to defense. In Golden State, they face their ultimate challenge because the Warriors have been so dominant scoring this season. They average 119.6 points per game, which is eight-plus points better than the next highest-scoring team. To say the Celtics have their hands full is putting mildly. Boston doesn’t want to walk the ball up the floor all game. But keeping the score around 100 or below has to be a primary goal for the Green team tonight.
PHYSICALITY FROM A(RON) TO Z(ASA)
Both teams have a slew of players with a high skill level but it might be worth keeping an eye on the bangers for each team; specifically, Boston’s Aron Baynes and Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia. Statistics do little when it comes to explaining the value that Baynes and Pachulia provide their respective teams. One of these guys will put their imprint on the game, which will go far in determining which team comes away with a win.
YOUNG COMING OF AGE
About the only thing youthful about Nick Young these days is his surname. A 10-year veteran, Young has the benefit of experience working for him as he tries to navigate his way through immersing himself in the Warriors’ winning culture. He’s averaging 6.5 points per game while logging 13.6 minutes per night, both career lows. But the trade-off for fewer points and less playing time? A chance to be part of a winner, something that has eluded him for most of his NBA career.
Rebounding on the defensive end of the floor is one of the very few areas the Celtics can look to exploit against the Warriors. The Celtics come into tonight’s game with a defensive rebounding percentage of .813, which ranks third in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Warriors’ defensive rebounding percentage is .762, which ranks 21st in the league. That means the Celtics may get a few extra cracks on the offensive glass, which could lead to some easy scores that would go far in Boston continuing its winning ways.