BOSTON – As has been the case all season, Kyrie Irving was the last player to speak to the media following the Celtics’ 102-88 win over his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was a game that the Celtics dominated from the outset, the kind of game that you would think Irving would have to impose his will on the game to give Boston its best shot at winning.
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But as we’ve seen in Irving’s short time with the Celtics, he has quickly figured out that sometimes the best way to lead is to show your teammates that you can follow.
Because on this night, it wasn’t Irving’s scoring or even his presence that won the game for Boston.
It was Terry Rozier dropping 20 points by making one big shot after another.
There was Marcus Smart scoring 15 points, Jayson Tatum in takeover mode to start the third quarter and Al Horford playing the best defense we’ve ever seen on Kevin Love, who has given him major fits in the past and...the list of Celtics who elevated their play was lengthy.
Irving didn’t elevate his play on Wednesday, but his leadership was undeniable.
There were times throughout the game when Irving could have forced the action, try to get his numbers up, which he has admitted that early in his NBA career was on the nightly checklist of things to do.
But his growth, not only as a player but as a leader, doesn’t allow him to lock into such thoughts anymore.
That’s what a 25-year-old, four-time All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and NBA champion does.
“Kyrie’s a great player,” teammate Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’re a team. We have other guys who can score, rebound, defend, do things to help us win. I think we showed that tonight.”
Look at Morris’ game.
It wasn’t one of his better games scoring (three points, 1-for-6 shooting), but the Celtics were +16 when he was on the floor.
Only two Celtics had a better plus/minus against Cleveland on Wednesday – Jayson Tatum (+21) and Irving (+18).
That’s because Morris, like many of his teammates, has a multitude of skills and talents that impact winning in a positive way, which isn’t necessarily a strength of the Cavs, who remain the biggest threat to the Green Team's chances of taking that next step in its growth that will lead to the NBA Finals.
They have talented players, but most of them lack the kind of defensive DNA that teams which typically make deep playoff runs have.
And so as Irving speaks about the positives from the victory and what it means to his team, I asked him about his growing confidence in this group to the point where he doesn’t force the action to do what he does best – score – and instead be comfortable with finishing with only 11 points.
“That’s just unbelievable,” Irving said. “I’m going to continue to exude confidence in all my teammates. They know that, whether it’s a 30-point night or an 11-point night. And really just...we all need each other. In order for all of us to flow in and feel the energy of the game and be unwavering in our approach, we just have to stay consistent. And that’s the biggest thing, consistency and preparation in which it takes to be a great team every single day, not just a couple games. It takes a while to develop that consistency, and I feel we’re trying to do that for one another.”
And soon after that, Irving made his way out of the TD Garden with yet another performance that left an undeniable impression.
It wasn’t how many points scored or ankles broken that stood out.
It was Irving’s leadership, which on this night required him to exude a quality few leaders in the NBA rarely do – follow those players he’s charged with leading, to victory.