Celtics

Paul Pierce: Kyrie Irving 'can impact this team in a major way'

Paul Pierce: Kyrie Irving 'can impact this team in a major way'

BOSTON – It took more than a decade for Paul Pierce to win an NBA title in Boston.
 
But he will be the first to tell you that the wait was worth it.
 
He knows better than most how special it is to win a championship in this title-starved city, to be the go-to man for a team in pursuit of that oh-so-elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
 
Which is why you can count Pierce among those who believe that new Celtic Kyrie Irving is more than ready to step into those shoes as Boston’s main guy and do what hasn’t been done since the days when Pierce wore Celtics Green – win an NBA title.

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“Kyrie can impact this team in a major way,” Pierce said in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely. “You saw what Isaiah Thomas was able to do. A lot of people, even though Isaiah averaged more points, a lot of people believe Kyrie is a better scorer.”
 
Thomas, who was part of the trade with Cleveland that sent Irving to Boston, ranked third in the NBA in scoring last season with a 28.9 points per game average – tops among all players in the East.
 
Irving is also coming off a banner season in which he posted career highs in several categories, including points (25.2), field goal percentage (.473) and free throw shooting percentage (.905).
 
Cavs general manager Koby Altman had nothing but praise for Irving earlier this month during Cleveland’s introduction of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic at the team’s practice facility.
 
“He (Irving) made tremendous contributions to this franchise and this city,” Altman said. “He was here six years and he became a champion here and he helped us win a championship in spectacular fashion. And so, I think we owe him a thank you and we owe him a debt of gratitude and we'll always be thankful for his exciting years with the Cavaliers.”
 
Making Irving’s play even more impressive was how he was able to stand out among the best in the NBA, despite playing alongside LeBron James who is widely considered the best player on the planet.
 
 “If you can average 25 points, 26 points and you got LeBron James on your team, that’s pretty impressive,” Pierce said.
 
With Cleveland, James was often the primary facilitator while Irving played off the ball  more but with the ball in hand, Irving frequently took his defender off the dribble with drives into the lane which was a major factor in his 8.3 points scored in the paint per game which according to nba.com/stats, ranked 10th among all guards in the NBA last season.
 
But no James means that the Celtics offense will often begin with Irving as the initiator, a role that will test the balancing act all great scorers have between creating their own shot versus creating shots for others.
 
He averaged 5.8 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.32 which ranked seventh among all NBA guards who appeared in as many games (72) last season as Irving.
 
In Boston, Irving joins a team with a pair of fellow All-Stars (Al Horford and Gordon Hayward) who while talented, aren’t as explosive off the dribble as the 25-year-old Irving who has already been named to four All-Star teams.
 
“He’s going to be the guy,” Pierce said. “He has championship experience. He’s still young and he’s got some other guys to play with.”
 
In addition to Horford and Hayward, Irving will also be instrumental in leading Boston’s next wave of impact players that will likely be led by second-year wing player Jaylen Brown as well as rookie Jayson Tatum who was selected by Boston with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
As talented as Brown and Tatum are, they will benefit greatly from the wisdom and guidance of a proven veteran like Irving who is still relatively young.
 
“He was ready for this type of role, to be the lead guy,” Pierce said. “He’s learned a lot under LeBron’s tutelage. He’s ready to share that with his teammates and possibly bring another championship to Boston.”

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A weeks-late realization that the Celtics kind of did chase LeBron out of the East

A weeks-late realization that the Celtics kind of did chase LeBron out of the East

Jayson Tatum's Game 7 dunk did not influence LeBron James' decision to leave the Eastern Conference, no matter how much I will continue to say it daily. 

The truth, as we've all realized, is that LeBron's mind was made up long before Tatum boomed him right in the face. 

But while it wasn't about that specific play, it kind of was about Tatum dunks. And Jaylen Brown dunks. And Al Horford dunks. And these heartbreakers. 

For as much as we talk about the Celtics having a wide-open path to the NBA Finals now, the truth is they had that anyway if LeBron stayed with Cleveland. The ever-careful superstar had to know his options were to either stay in the East and get smoked by the Celtics or go out West and get smoked by the Warriors. If the results are the same, he might as well experience them in a nicer city. 

James' decision to go to the Lakers clearly wasn't about winning. If it were, he would have explored options like the Celtics, Rockets or taken the 76ers seriously.

His decision to leave the Cavaliers, however, had to at least be partially about winning. Just being home for Cleveland isn't enough; it was the fact that it could be a winner that got LeBron to return in the first place. With it no longer a title contender because of the Celtics' roster, staying in Cleveland was probably no longer worth it for James. 

What's interesting is that the Celtics knew it, too. Jaylen Brown's comments last week about wishing LeBron stayed in Cleveland were bang-on. Now that LeBron's gone, the Celtics' waltz to a Warriors matchup will be accompanied by talk from dumb people that they weren't able to do it when LeBron was in the conference. 

Here's why it's a smart move PR-wise on James' part: If LeBron stayed in the East and got beaten by the Celtics every year, people -- dumb people, but people nonetheless -- would talk about a torch being passed and how James was no longer dominant because he wasn't winning. 

The West presents a different narrative. Do you know what you're considered to be if you lose to the Warriors in the West? A victim. A victim of a super team and a victim of Kevin Durant's cowardice (the dumb people's words, not mine). 

So LeBron made an easy choice to leave Cleveland and the Celtics had to factor into it at least a little. If Kawhi Leonard eventually joins him, perhaps he can see the Celtics in the NBA Finals one of these years. That's a big "if" considering what we just saw Paul George do, but the fact of the matter is that LeBron's road to the finals was blocked whether he was in Cleveland or Los Angeles. 

Did LeBron run away from the Celtics? Not necessarily, but he clearly saw the effect the Celtics would have had on him if he stayed in Cleveland. It wasn't as pretty as L.A. 

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Get to know the newest Celtic, Walt Lemon Jr.

Get to know the newest Celtic, Walt Lemon Jr.

BOSTON – Walter Lemon Jr. has agreed to a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics, becoming the third player ever with such a designation for the Celtics.

He played four years at Bradley before taking his game overseas to play in Hungary, Istanbul, Greece, Germany and later returning to the United States to play for the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants of the Gatorade League.

But what do we really know about the newest member of the Celtics family?

Here’s a look at five facts about Lemon who, as a player with a two-way contract, will spend up to 45 days with the Celtics while the rest of his time will be spent with Boston’s G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws:

*Despite being 6-foot-3, Lemon Jr. is comfortable playing above the rim. That’s evident by him competing in Slam Dunk contests both in college (2014 and 2015) and in the G-League (2016).

*Finished his career at Bradley ranked among the school’s top-10 in scoring, assists, and steals.

*Best scoring game in the G-League last season was a 40-point outburst against the Maine Red Claws, the team he will be playing with most of this upcoming season.

*Became the first player in school history to be named the Missouri Valley Conference Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2014.

*On July 26 he will turn 26 years old.

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