Celtics

Star receiver upset with lack of targets

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Star receiver upset with lack of targets

From Comcast SportsNet

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd isn't catching any deep passes in John Fox's conservative, run-oriented offense, and he's letting his quarterback and his coaches know just how he feels about it. Kyle Orton and Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said Lloyd has asked to be more involved in the offense even as opponents roll a safety over the top to bracket him in double-coverage. A year after leading the league with 1,448 yards receiving, Lloyd said he thinks he's being underused by the Broncos. He had 17 catches of 25 or more yards last year and none of his 10 catches so far this season have gone for more than 20 yards. "It's not like we're not trying to get him the ball," McCoy said. Fox pointed to a strained groin as one reason for the dearth of downfield chances for Lloyd. Orton noted that Lloyd's getting a lot of attention from defensive coordinators and the flow of the games has dictated a different approach. Lloyd said Denver's offensive doctrine is the primary culprit. "I think it's just us, the coaching staff, staying true to the philosophy of running the ball," Lloyd said Thursday. "I think we've kind of gotten in game management mode, as opposed to an aggressive, take-control mode. I think that's what has limited us." So far, the Broncos have called plays that have led to long, time-consuming drives that rely on a heavy diet of runs and underneath passes and not the quick-strike deep ball that was featured so often in 2010. Orton said Lloyd is commanding so much attention after his breakout season but the Broncos will certainly capitalize on his speed and athleticism at some point. "He'll have to stay patient," Orton said. And healthy, Fox suggested. "He was hobbled in the fourth quarter of the opener, missed the whole second game. It's hard to be any kind of a threat when you don't have a uniform," Fox said. "I don't think he was 100 percent" last week, when he caught four passes for 38 yards at Tennessee. "I'd say that was a little bit of a reason." "I'm healthy," Lloyd countered. "I mean, I'm not frustrated, but I want to go down the field more," he added. "I think that just helps us. I feel like we play better when we have a lead. I think that explosive pass plays hurt a defense more, when you can get big chunks passing the ball and running the ball." Lloyd said if McCoy wants to get him the ball, he would design the plays to beat the double coverages. "I think there's still a niche that I have and a talent, a skill-set, that should be used," Lloyd said. And he's let his quarterback know it, too. "Oh, yeah. I've been with Brandon a long time now and he always wants the ball," Orton said. "And you always want your receivers to want the football. So, I just keep telling him to run his routes hard and we'll hit them when they're open." Despite his unhappiness, there's no simmering controversy at Broncos headquarters. Fox said he doesn't mind players letting him know they're displeased with their production. "I think most competitors do (speak up). They all want to win," Fox said. McCoy said he, too, welcomes Lloyd's input. "Yeah, that's the way we want it to be. We have an open door policy here and he's a very talented player," McCoy said. "Of course you want to get him the ball more. Have we played a certain style of offense the first three weeks of the season? Yes, but we'll find ways to get him the ball." Wide receivers protesting their light workload is nothing new in the NFL. "They're all selfish. I mean, there's only one football," McCoy said. "The quarterback's the only one who's going to touch it every play. We have some very talented skilled players and you'd love to get them all the ball 10, 15 times a game, which you can't." The Broncos might target Lloyd more at Green Bay on Sunday. For one thing, the Packers have allowed a ton of yards through the air and not so many on the ground. For another, Denver must try to neutralize star cornerback Charles Woodson, who can wreak havoc when he's in a zone patrolling the short and intermediate passing lanes. "The tough thing with him is you never know where he's going to line up," Orton said. "It might be corner, at nickel or at safety. He's all over the field. He's good wherever he's at. He's a playmaker and a ball hawk, so wherever he is you've got to be careful and make sure your guy's open and Charles can't make the play." The Broncos could stick with their time-consuming approach to keep Green Bay's explosive offense on the sideline, but Orton noted that maintaining those sustained drives is difficult. "We have to find a way (at some point) to steal a touchdown on a two- or three-play drive on a big play." Packers coach Mike McCarthy worked with Lloyd during their time together with the San Francisco 49ers and he said he knows him too well to think he won't use his speed and athleticism to get behind the defense Sunday, even if he hasn't done it so far. "I know Brandon Lloyd can go deep and catch the football," McCarthy said. "We're well aware of that and he's still a threat to do that this week."

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

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Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

BOSTON – For most of this NBA season, the narrative surrounding the Celtics has centered around the maturity of their young players.

Well, there's a much bigger tale of growth on this team. But we're not talking about rookie Jayson Tatum or second-year wing Jaylen Brown.

We're talking about Kyrie Irving, whose desire for growth fueled his decision to want out of Cleveland this past offseason.

And that growth has in turn sparked the Celtics to what has been an unprecedented run of success.

"He's doing things that we never saw when he was in Cleveland," one league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. "He always had great talent, but could he lead a really good team? I think we got our answer now."

The Celtics (16-2) boast the best record in the NBA, which is amazing when you consider Gordon Hayward broke his ankle less than five minutes into the season opener. Not to mention they lost their first two games.

Literally all they've done since then is win.

Boston's 16 straight victories is an NBA record after losing the first two games of the season. The winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in franchise history.

And while the pieces to Boston's success vary, the man whose growth has been at the epicenter of the Celtics' emergence as a title contender has been Irving.

You can count Mike Brown, Irving's former coach in Cleveland, among those impressed with the growth in Irving on all levels.

"To see Kyrie taking ownership of not only little things offensively, but even on the other end of the floor, leadership and all that other stuff ... I'm happy for him, I'm excited for him," Brown, now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, told NBC Sports Boston. 

While his numbers have taken a slight dip here in Boston, Irving seems to be better in tune with what he needs to do to positively impact the play of his teammates and the team as a whole.

In Boston's 110-102 overtime win at Dallas on Monday, Irving had 47 points, the most he's scored as a Celtic.

His scoring binge included 10 points in overtime. 

And when talking about his monster scoring night, Irving provides a clue as to how his approach to the game has changed over the years in terms of scoring.

Irving described his breakout scoring night as something that "was called upon," adding: "I don't think I needed to score over 20 or 25 in particular games. So I think if you would have asked me that question probably a few years ago, I would probably tell you that I would definitely be trying to get 40."

Earlier this season, Irving talked about developing some bad habits early in his career because his primary goal, like most high draft picks, was to get buckets. That frequently led to the ball sticking in his hands too long, or him having to force up shots and not getting his teammates involved as much as he should have.

While some chalked it up to him being a selfish player, Brown saw it differently.

"A lot of it was his youth, which is more than understandable," said Brown, who coached Irving in Cleveland during the 2013-14 season. "When he first came into the league, he had played 11 games in college. Before that with high school and AAU, for a guy that talented, it was pretty easy for him. He could go out and get 40 and win and not have to focus on anything else."

Brown recalls one of the early challenges with Irving was getting him to get his teammates involved more consistently.

"One of the things I used to always hit him with, he can score and finish in a crowd like no other, especially at his size," Brown recalled. "He draws a lot of attention. I always used to tell him, whether it's the strong-side or the weak-side, guys in the corners are wide open when you dribble-penetrate because you are such a dangerous finisher."

There would be film study to illustrate this point. It would show just how easily Irving would get to various spots on the floor by breaking his defender down or splitting an upcoming double team. But it would also show that when he made his moves in traffic, far too often his head would be down, which is why he wasn't finding teammates open.

Brown pointed this out as an area Irving needed to get better at if he were going to continue ascending up the point-guard stratosphere in the NBA.

"And you know, he got a little better at it," Brown said. 

Today?

"I tell you right now, he's a double-edged sword," Brown said. "Now, not only can he finish in traffic, now he's finding guys in the strong-corner. He's finding guys in the weak corner. And he's finding guys that are in the slots above the corner on the wing. To see him make that pass with such ease and precision right now, at least for me it's a joy. It's a joy for me because it's something I knew he could do. As a young man in high school and AAU, he's probably thinking, score, score, score. So that's not something he developed growing up, at least he didn't show to me. Now to see him do it, it's beautiful."

It certainly has been for the Celtics, who are off to their best start under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has found a way to blend his system, which is heavily predicated on ball movement offensively and the ability to switch frequently on defense, with Irving's immense individual talent. So far at least, has been a good fit for all involved.

"Kyrie is trying to do his role to the best of his ability," Stevens said. "Obviously, his role garners a lot of attention because he scores the ball and he has those moments where he mesmerizes everybody with his ability to score the ball and handle the ball and stuff. He's trying to do all the little things. It's a brand new system. There's going to continue to be an adjustment period for him. But he's done a good job."

Listening to Irving talk following the win over Dallas, it's clear there's a considerable amount of thought on his part given to how he'll attack defenses even though we're talking about split-second, on-the-fly decisions.

"It just happens," Irving said when asked about his best scoring night as a Celtic. "Just the flow of the game, understanding where spacing is, where the shot is going to come from, when it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal, being aggressive and take advantage of certain things I was seeing out there. But my teammates did a great job of continuing to pressure the basketball."

And he continues to provide both strong play and leadership, which have moved the needle closer to him achieving what he was seeking when he asked the Cavs to trade him during the offseason.

"This was literally a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward," he said earlier this season.

Watching him inside the Celtics locker room and on the floor, it's clear that he's having a good time out there.

And his career going forward? 

Irving's impact on winning has positioned him to where a strong case can be made for him being a top-5 league MVP candidate.

Following the Dallas win, Irving was serenaded by fans chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P'" which certainly brought a smile to his face and was somewhat unexpected considering Boston was on the road.

"It's pretty awesome," Irving said of the chants. "But we got a long way to go."

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