LeBron James

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.

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

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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.

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New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

LOS ANGELES – Both players and coaches involved with Sunday’s All-Star game like the new format, but will surely look to tweak a couple of things.

Among the more likely changes will be the process involved in not just selecting the team, but making the selections known to the public. 

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan has an idea, one that’s shared by some players, media and maybe most important, NBA fans. 

“Televise it,” DeRozan said. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

MORE - Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

The new format involved their being two captains – LeBron James and Stephen Curry – who picked their respective teams from the 22 remaining All-Stars regardless of conference affiliation. 

The NBA also increased the amount of money given to each player on the winning team - $100,000 – while the losing team members each received $25,000.

Regardless of what the changes may be going forward, it’s clear that players see this new format as the blueprint for how All-Star games should be structured going forward.

“This kind of changed the culture of it a lot, for the better,” said Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler. “It’s only going to get more and more competitive because guys see how it was for the last five minutes of that game. Everybody wants to compete.”

Here are five takeaways from the 67th NBA All-Star game with Team LeBron defeating Team Steph 148-145. 

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Kyrie Irving

There were others who scored more, had more assists and certainly grabbed more rebounds than Kyrie Irving. But one of the more telling developments in the game was how Irving returned to the game in the fourth down 10 points, and didn’t leave until Team LeBron emerged with the win seven minutes and 16 seconds later. Even in an All-Star setting, Irving’s impact on winning stands out. Along with his 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, Team LeBron was a +16 when Irving was on the floor – tops among all All-Star starters. 

 

LeBron James

The calendar says he’s 33 years old. But other than that, there’s nothing about LeBron James that even remotely looks like his time as the best player on the planet will end anytime soon. In a game full of stars on the rise as well as established stalwarts such as himself, James totally crushed it Sunday night in walking away with his third All-Star game MVP trophy after a double-double of 29 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight assists.  

 

DeMar DeRozan

We know him as the king of the mid-range game. But as we saw on Sunday, DeRozan has a lot more offensive versatility that he’s capable of unleashing. He’s arguably the biggest reason why Toronto has the best record in the East right now. Playing for Team Steph, DeRozan tallied 21 points attacking the rim off the dribble and of course, knocking down mid-range jumpers

 

Jimmy Butler

A bit under the weather, Butler never set foot on the court to play. The league’s leader in minutes played this season (37.3), Butler wasn’t expected to play a ton of minutes anyway. Still, it would have been nice to see him out there even if it was for a minute or two. He’s one of the league’s best two-way players whose play has been instrumental to the Timberwolves looking very much like a playoff team this season. “I have to rest,” Butler said. “I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

 

Joel Embiid

The ring leader of Philadelphia’s “Trust the Process” movement, Joel Embiid, was impressive in his All-Star debut. For Embiid, it’s one thing to believe you are one of the NBA’s best players. It’s an entirely different matter to step on the floor with the game’s best talent and validate yourself as one of the game’s best players.  “During the season, I thought I was a top-five or top-10 player in the league,” said Embiid who had 19 points and eight rebounds. “And before the game I wanted confirmation of it. I felt like I could hang with them.”

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