Celtics

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.

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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.

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Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
 
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
 
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
 
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.

THE WINNING STREAK

He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
 
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
 
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
 
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
 
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
 
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
 
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
 
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
 
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
 
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
 
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
 
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
 
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
 
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
 
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
 
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
 
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
 
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
 
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
 
“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

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