Under Stevens, Kyrie's game ready for growth spurt

Under Stevens, Kyrie's game ready for growth spurt

BOSTON – One of the things you quickly discover if you’re around Kyrie Irving long enough, it’s that he’s really perceptive.
It isn’t so much what he observes in a particular moment, but the knowledge he banks away based on what he sees and how that knowledge makes its way to the surface when he deems it necessary.


When the Celtics went all-in to trade for Irving, there were lots of questions and concerns about whether it was a good idea.
Even before sitting down with the Celtics’ brass, Irving saw himself and the Celtics both wanting the same thing out of this budding basketball marriage – growth.
For him, that growth comes in the form of stability, the kind of coaching stability he has never had since coming into the NBA.
Knowing Brad Stevens was a heck of a coach, one who brought out the best in those he has worked with, was appealing to Irving.
And knowing that Stevens wasn’t going anywhere, Irving didn’t have to come to Boston and buy into Stevens’ system or anything like that.
Irving was already all-in before he arrived. It's one of the key reasons the Celtics (7-2) are off to such a fast start despite Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury that’s expected to keep him sidelined all season.
When asked about why he left Cleveland, Irving often mentions a desire to grow both as a player and as a person.
That often gets him the McKayla Maroney side-eyed smirk from fans who look at him and are like, ‘Dude, you’re a four-time all-star whose only 25 years old! How much more growth do you need?’

The first nine games speak to that growth Irving has been seeking, not just since he became a Celtic, but since he came into the NBA.
Before LeBron James arrived in Cleveland, Irving was trying to find his way like most young, ridiculously gifted players. Once James arrived, Irving had to modify his play to be more of a complement to James, rather than a headliner, which is what No. 1 overall picks such as himself and James, are accustomed to being for their team.
Well, he has the spotlight in Boston and so far has shown that he’s more than just an elite scorer with crazy ball-handling skills.
He has become the de facto closer for the Celtics, a role many envisioned him playing when he arrived in Boston.
More than that, he has also become a defensive asset that nobody saw coming.
Irving has been among the league’s leaders in steals and deflections, with a defensive rating among the best in the league among guards.
He has become a more complete, all-around superstar who, if he continues the pace he’s on now, will soon be mentioned as a league MVP candidate.
And his talent has a lot to do with that.
So does the trust he has developed in Brad Stevens.
Stevens presented Irving with something no other coach he has ever had in the league could – stability.
Aside from San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, there isn’t another coach in the NBA who has the kind of job stability that Stevens does.
For all the X’s and O’s that Stevens draws up, the fact that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon is huge for Irving who had four different coaches in a six-year period in Cleveland.
With so many new forms of leadership, Irving was constantly being tasked with adjusting to a new system and a new role, without there necessarily being a growth component attached to it.
That’s not the case in Boston.
He came to town as a high-impact scorer.
Irving still gets buckets, obviously.
But we have seen aspects of his game that most didn’t know existed because, again, he had a role in Cleveland that was more about using his talents to help the franchise win rather than his overall development as a player.
In Boston, Irving is getting the best of both worlds with Stevens as his coach.
Although Stevens has only been in Boston for four-plus seasons, there’s a clear pattern of players getting better in their time under his watch.
Evan Turner, Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk are just a few of the players whose fortunes improved dramatically from the time they arrived in Boston until the time they left.
Irving hopes to be the latest success story, one that Celtics fans are hoping will have a happy ending with Irving helping lead Boston to bringing home Banner 18.
A big part of that journey will be the ever-growing bond built on trust that has developed between Irving and Stevens.

LIVE GAMEDAY: Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Game 4

NBC Sports Boston

LIVE GAMEDAY: Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Game 4

Celtics are calm, focused, and ready for Game 4

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics are calm, focused, and ready for Game 4

MILWAUKEE – Inside the Boston Celtics locker room, there was an unmistakable calm among the players moments removed from a 116-92 thumping at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Players talked among themselves about what went wrong, about what they will do different in Game 4 on Sunday but more than anything else, they owned the loss.

There was no finger-pointing or second-guessing the head coaches’ player rotations or not-so-stealth putdowns of an opposing player who had been playing well – all things done by the Bucks thus far in this series.


The post-game highlights were still in heavy rotation, but the Celtics had already moved on mentally to Sunday’s Game 4 matchup.

“They did what they had to do. It is what it is,” Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “Can’t dwell on it. We’ll see them on Sunday.”

As much as Boston has been a team that’s built upon a “Next Man Up” framework, an “on-to-the-next-game” mindset is also deeply woven into this team’s DNA.

That’s why win or lose, the Celtics don’t spend much time thinking or talking about what just happened.

And it is games like the one we saw on Friday where that approach is absolutely critical to them continuing along a successful path and not let rough nights such as Friday’s beatdown, derail them.

More than anything else, the Celtics have extracted elements beyond the X’s and O’s of Friday’s loss as their takeaways in helping improve their overall play for Sunday.

It’s easy to forget that Friday’s game was the first time this team had played a postseason road game together which any NBA veteran will tell you, is different than what you experience during the regular season.

Boston’s Al Horford believes having gone through that with this group for the first time on Friday, will benefit the Celtics in Game 4.

“We learned what the level of intensity is when you’re playing in the playoffs on the road,” Horford said. “At home, you feel good. You’re comfortable and confident. Even though we’ve been playing on the road all year, it’s different in the playoffs.

Horford added, “it’s a good learning experience for our group.”

And while there are sure to be adjustments made on Boston’s part, don’t expected them to stray too far away from who they have been all season.

“We’re super excited about Sunday,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “(Friday), we dropped the ball. We feel like we could have played a lot better. We can’t wait for Sunday, and we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing all year.”