Cleveland Cavaliers

Blakely: It's Kyrie's time to take over

Blakely: It's Kyrie's time to take over

BOSTON – The theory surrounding why Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland is the story that seemingly will never die.

That’s because the true narrative is very much like its author.

It’s complicated and consists of several layers that at its core will likely never be known to anyone other than Irving.

But one thing we do know about Irving.

He wanted to run his own shop, to be the where the buck stops, to shoulder the blame win or lose.

And that’s why right now may be the most significant period of time in his career.

Irving has been great all season. Part of that has to do with this being a great season for the Celtics (Gordon Hayward’s injury aside, of course), who have been the team most of the East has been chasing for months.

But they have fallen down and no one knows if they can get up and get back to where they were as the East’s best team.

We’ve talked about Marcus Smart’s return and how much that will help.

Jayson Tatum’s dislocated pinky from a month ago will surely benefit by having a week or so without practice or real games to be played.

And the team, by and large, should feel rejuvenated, a similar vibe most teams feel right after the break.

But when it comes to this team getting back on track to climb past Toronto, which is playing great basketball, and do so while fending off a charging Cleveland team and an on-the-come Washington Wizards, the Celtics don’t need Kyrie to be good.

He has to be special.

And yes, it’s a huge amount of pressure on him but if you listen to him talk, it’s clear as day that this is what he wants and expects.

Irving does his best Ubuntu-esque spiel when it comes to talking about the team’s leadership and how he’s just one of many leaders on this team.

While it sounds good, let’s be real.

This is Irving’s team, and they are only going to go as far as he leads them.

Yes, there have been others who have stepped up and done some great things and those players have every reason to feel empowered by their contributions to the team’s success.

But Boston’s chances of having the kind of season they believe they’re capable of – with or without Hayward's return – hinge entirely on how Irving guides this team through the next 23 games.

And the load that Irving will be counted on to carry, teammates recognize he has been literally building himself up to handle this all season.

I asked Al Horford what has impressed him the most about Irving that doesn’t necessarily involve his play.

“The way he takes care of his body, to me is very impressive,” Horford said. “Massage therapy, lifting in the weight room, to make sure he’s at the highest level to play.  He’s a younger guy, but he’s very wise. He really takes care of himself. It’s great to see that. He understands he has to take care of his body and that’s something that’s really impressed me, from him.”

Still, any conversation about Irving can’t totally ignore that the 25-year-old, five-time All-Star is a hell of a player, too.

“His ability to see the game. Just looking at him, and him being able to make reads and understand certain things, those are the things that have impressed me,” Horford said.

And that vision has guided him throughout his career, whether it’s leaving Duke after playing just a handful of games there or showing no hesitation in taking and then making the most iconic shot in Cleveland Cavaliers history to bring home an NBA title.

Irving has shown no fear when it comes to stepping up in big moments.

And with Boston (40-19) in need of a serious surge, not only in terms of better play but also leadership, this is Irving’s time to shine in what should be another page-turner from a guy whose basketball narrative seems to always keeps us on our toes guessing as to what’s coming next.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics history shows a strong second half is coming

Celtics history shows a strong second half is coming

LOS ANGELES – Dropping three in a row and four of five right before the All-Star break, it’s clear the Celtics did not hit the break playing their best basketball.

But they’re not hitting the panic button either, and for good reason.

As disappointing as they may have been leading up to the All-Star break, the Celtics (40-19) still have the second-best record in the East, which is exactly where they were a year ago this time heading out of the break.

And if recent history is any indicator of the future, you can count on the Celtics putting together a surge after the break that, at worst, will keep them close to where they are in the standings.

Now in his fifth season as the Celtics’ coach, Brad Stevens has won at least 16 regular-season games after the break each of the past three seasons.

And that success helped propel Boston to a playoff berth each season and the Celtics’ postseason seeding improving from one year to the next.

After having had the best record in the East for most of this season, the Celtics are once again counting on a strong finish.

It’s one thing for the Celtics to tout their confidence in getting back on track.

But that belief is shared by others as well.

“They're a very good team,” said Golden State’s Draymond Green. “They're young, this is their first year together. Obviously, Kyrie [Irving] is one of the few guys, if not the only guy, with championship experience. So, it takes a little experience to kind of figure things out.”

Boston is banking on Green’s theory panning out, a theory that will be put to the test considering the Celtics made no moves at the trade deadline other than to sign center Greg Monroe after he agreed to a buyout with the Phoenix Suns.

The talk of the league the past couple of weeks has been Cleveland. The Cavs (34-22, third in the East) engineered three trades that radically changed their roster and the likely trajectory of their season.

“It's been a small sample size so far. But just getting some new energy into the locker room and seeing how those guys play out there has been great,” said Cavs forward Kevin Love. “George Hill has stepped into the starting lineup right away; been super solid for us. Rodney Hood gives us a lefty with a lot of game. Kind of has a quiet confidence about him. Larry Nance is a double-double threat every night. He's a guy with a number of teams playing smaller basketball or position-less basketball in the league. He's a guy that can switch on to multiple positions.

Love added: “Jordan Clarkson is a selfless player and kind of has that swagger about him where he doesn't care if he starts, comes off the bench. He can go out there and give you 20 points and help our bench. I believe in our first two games with those guys, we scored over 50 off the bench in both games against two very good teams. So it's going to be interesting to see what happens because we feel like if we get a couple months under our belt playing together. We could be tough.”

The same is true of the Toronto Raptors, who came into the break with the best record in the Eastern Conference, a first for that franchise.

As well as the Raptors (41-16) have played, their coach, Dwane Casey, hesitates to do too much patting on the back right now.

When asked if his team was the best in the East, he replied, “I don't know. The record says we are, but for me to sit here and say we are the best team...we have confidence, but I'm not going to sit here and say we are the best team. Right now, we're number one. The numbers say that.”

The numbers also indicate that the Washington Wizards are another team that’s on the rise these days. They've won seven of their past nine leading up to the break to re-enter the conversation as one of the East’s top teams.

“It’s crazy. It’s wide open,” said Washington’s Bradley Beal. “We’re all right there, neck-and-neck. Everybody is going to continue to get better. Everyone has 24, 25 games left. They’re going to fly by. It’s definitely going to come down to the playoffs. Anybody can take it.”

And the Celtics will remain among the leaders of that pack, even as they come out of the break struggling to win games.

Green believes more than anything, the Celtics are still figuring out how to handle being a team that’s targeted every night as one of the biggest games on the opposing team’s schedule.

“I think they went from going into the season with Kyrie and Gordon [Hayward] and Al [Horford] kind of expecting to be really good,” Green said. “With young guys like Jaylen [Brown], Jayson Tatum, expected to be really good. Then Gordon went down and then there were no expectations for them. And they completely outplayed that.

Green added, “So, then it's a different thing. Now, all of a sudden everyone is gunning for you and that takes some adjusting to. So, I think they're just adjusting to it, but they'll be fine. Everyone hits that rough patch in the season. I think it's just that's what they're going through right now.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 
 

Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

usatsi_10629598.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

LOS ANGELES – With the All-Star Game a thing of the past now, those who participated in the game will get a couple days of rest before the NBA grind of a season starts back up.

Meanwhile, their teammates and the rest of the league will return after nearly a week without games, seemingly enough time to recharge and re-focus for the remainder of the season.

All-Stars like Stephen Curry will try to maximize the next couple days which will serve as their all-star break.

“I think that’s kind of a double-edged sword of being an All-Star,” Curry said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, an amazing honor, but if you’re thinking about it in the perspective of getting rest and really taking advantage of the full slate of All-Star break, it doesn’t really start for us until (after Sunday’s game).”

But it’s not just getting a chance to recharge physically, Curry said. 

“That’s a big part of it too,” Curry said. “Not even just your body, but get a refresh mentally to know that when you get back to practice on Wednesday that that’s when the real grind starts.” 

A 'HORFORD-LIKE' ALL-STAR GAME

It wasn’t a big shot or a dunk or any other offensive play that decided the outcome in Team LeBron’s 148-145 all-star game win over Team Steph.

On the final play, it was a game decided by the little things such as a last-second double team or a clutch rebound or a “hockey assist,” the kind of plays that we often see made by Al Horford which made Sunday’s all-star game on some levels, have a Horford-like feel.

“Guys were looking for each other. It was good to see,” said Horford, playing in his fifth all-star game. “It was good basketball. You obviously have your one-on-one plays. But probably for the first time I’ve played in this game, I felt it was more of a game. So that was fun to see.”

OH SO CLOSE . . . 

If Team Steph had held on for the win over Team LeBron, there was a very good chance that Compton, Calif. native and USC alum DeMar DeRozan would have been the game’s MVP.

When told of this, DeRozan replied, “You just want to break my heart some more, huh?”

He added, “Hey, just being out there was a blessing, man, honestly. Just being able to be part of that. I’m just happy to be out there competing with them guys.”

However, being so close to home did make for a special weekend.

“I mean, it was a dream come true,” said DeRozan who had 21 points and six rebounds. “This is one of the moments that I’m going to forever live with. Being able to be a part of this, to come from where I come from and come out here and be a starter for an All-Star game in my hometown, it definitely was a dream come true.”

JAMES TAKES PRIDE IN BODY, NOT PROVING HE'S STILL A GREAT PLAYER TO YOUNGSTERS

LeBron James remains a commanding figure in the NBA, showing no signs of slowing up even at a time when most players his age are slowing down.

And while an influx of young talent has certainly come into the league and made their mark, there’s no getting around the fact that James can still dominate games on several levels.

“What I take pride in is taking care of my body,” said James, who is 33 years old. “Taking care of my body. Making sure I’m available every night and continue to get better and better. I don’t really take it as a young guy, okay, I need to show him I’m still able to do this. I need to continue to show myself, you know, because every night I step on the floor I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level. I feel great.”

RAPTORS' CASEY: COACHING VS. LOWRY, DeROZAN 'WAS TOUGH'

Dwane Casey was happy to be the head coach of his first all-star game, but there was a definite downside to it: coaching against his best players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

With the new format, Casey was coaching Team LeBron while DeRozan and Lowry played for Team Steph.

“That was tough, that was tough,” Casey said. “You look out there and you’re yelling at guys to get up on them, to push them, and to play DeMar’s left-hand or right-hand, and push him left. All those things you fight as a coach.

Casey added, “Those are the things that you feel bad about, but, again, those two have carried us and pushed us, and taken us in the conversation of being one of the top teams in the league. I love both of them as sons, and I’m proud of them for where they came from, and they’ve made themselves into multi-time all-stars.”

For DeRozan, this was his third straight all-star selection and fourth overall, while Lowry made his fourth straight all-star appearance.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE