Celtics

Kyrie's strong defensive game overshadowed by brilliant offensive finish

Kyrie's strong defensive game overshadowed by brilliant offensive finish

When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, we knew he would get his hands the ball a lot.

But defensively?

Irving has 22 deflections this season, which not only leads the Celtics (4-2), but ranks third in the league behind Oklahoma City's Paul George (27 deflections) and Indiana's Thaddeus Young (25). Irving is also tied for third in the NBA in loose balls recovered (9).

And while he does gamble at times defensively, it certainly hasn’t significantly hurt his defensive rating this season.

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Irving’s defensive rating is 95.8 which is by far the best it has been since he came into the NBA as the top overall pick in 2011.

Prior to this season, his best defensive rating was 104.5 which came during the 2014-2015 season in Cleveland, his first with LeBron James as a teammate.

Irving is making lots of good reads, seemingly in the right place often at the right time defensively, and the result has been lots of opportunities to disrupt opposing team’s offense.

“I hope those deflections turn into a few more steals so we can start our break,” Irving said. “But, just staying active on the basketball, being able to be at the top of the key as well as impact the ball, off the ball, and understand my defensive pressure can be an aid for us to get timely stops throughout the whole game.”

In Boston’s 96-90 win at Miami on Saturday, Irving was brilliant down the stretch while finishing with a game-high 24 points which included him scoring nine of Boston’s last 10 points.

But lost in his strong performance were three steals and a game-high eight deflections which helped force the usually turnover-low Miami Heat into committing 19 turnovers which Boston converted into 21 points which accounted for 21.9 percent of the Celtics' offense.

Regardless of what Irving does defensively, his offensive game will always be what most people talk about.

But as he continues to grow as a player, as a leader on this Celtics team, the 25-year-old All-Star knows he has to continue to show that he’s more than just an ankle-breaking, finish-at-the-rim scorer who can also knock down the 3-ball if defenses aren't careful.

“When we’re playing against great teams, going against guys that have a lead guard or teams that have a 6-8 point guard, a 6-9 point guard, I’m able to do different things on any given night,” said Irving whose 2.3 steals per game ranks sixth in the NBA this season. “It’s definitely a luxury to have guys that have length on this team that are able to cover up for our mistakes and me able to get my hands on the basketball a few times and turn them into some fast breaks.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BEST OF BST PODCAST: Celtics can't get it done without Kyrie

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: Celtics can't get it done without Kyrie

0:41 - With Kyrie Irving out with shoulder soreness the Celtics looked like a shell of themselves, losing to the 76ers, 89-80. A. Sherrod Blakely joins Michael Holley and D.J. Bean from the TD Garden to break down the loss.

7:43 - Tom Brady is injured! This is not a drill! Brady missed practice on Thursday and remains a question mark for the AFC Championship Game. Tom Giles, Jeff Howe, D.J. Bean and Tom Curran discuss the severity of the injury.

15:09 - Dave Dombrowski’s plan for the upcoming season - or lack of one - has continued to confuse everyone, though he made it clear that he’s not waiting for next year’s huge free agent class. Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Tom Curran react to Dealin’ Dave’s comments on the situation.

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE

Kyrie Irving: Sitting out with shoulder injury 'just precautionary'

Kyrie Irving: Sitting out with shoulder injury 'just precautionary'

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving has long since understood the balancing act he must walk between embracing the moment while being mindful of the big picture. 

That’s why the decision to sit out Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia was one that, while certainly didn’t do Boston any favors against the Sixers on Thursday, it does provide him some much-needed downtime to rest his sore left shoulder.

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The good news is that tests taken on the shoulder show no structural damage. And with the way the schedule is shaping up now, Irving will have plenty of time to rest and be ready to play when the Celtics return to the floor on Sunday to host the Orlando Magic. 

“Just precautionary stuff, making sure everything's alright from a strength perspective,” was how Irving described the injury. “Obviously a few days will put me where I need to be. And we'll just see what goes on for Sunday's game, but you know it's nothing too crazy, just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks and I've just been playing through it doing what's best in terms of preparing best for every single game. I thought it was best just to get a few tests and make sure everything's alright so, everything's cool.”

Irving said the tests came back negative which is a huge positive for the Celtics and Irving who was selected as an NBA all-star starter for next month’s game. 

As far as how it happened, Irving said there was no specific event or play in which he suffered a blow to the shoulder or anything like that. 

“Gradual soreness” is how Irving described the injury.  “You know, kinda going into my shot, driving left, just not feeling as confident as I would like to be and just thought it would be best just to take a day or two to get it evaluated, meet with our medical staff, meet with our strength conditioning coach and strengthen it up and then hopefully go on Sunday.”

The Celtics (34-12) have now lost two of the three games they played this season without Irving. It is a small sample size, but there’s no denying the impact that a healthy Irving has on this roster when it comes to impacting winning. 

“First off, I just had to make sure some of the major parts of my shoulder just weren't damaged,” said Irving who added, “And then at this point it's just a strength program and doing what's best with that.” 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE