PLYMOUTH, Mass. – The last time we saw Kyrie Irving, he was in street clothes as the Celtics navigated their way through the playoffs without him and advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fast forward to this month, one in which Stevens has seen Irving working out with his teammates in pickup games doing what can be best described as Irving-like things.
When asked if Irving had the cutting moves we’ve seen him display in splicing up defenders on a nightly basis, Stevens, with a mischievous smile, said, “he’s got ‘em. He looks pretty good."
And that bodes well for a Boston team that’s expected by many to advance to the NBA Finals this season.
“He’s worked really hard,” Stevens said of Irving. “I think he’s excited … it’s good to see that.”
Irving has established himself as one of the top guards in the NBA and has shown himself capable of stepping up in the playoffs when needed.
A career 22.0 points per game scorer, Irving has averaged 23.9 points in the postseason, putting up at least 25.2 points per game in his last two playoff appearances (2016 and 2017).
But injuries and an infection in his left knee have led to him missing all or most of the postseason in two of the last four seasons.
“The one last year with us was such a shock,” Stevens said. “Just because of the unfortunate event with the infection.”
He won’t be the only Celtic who will be watched closely in training camp.
Gordon Hayward, who missed most of last season with a left ankle injury suffered in the season opener, has also looked good in workouts according to Stevens.
“He’s been really diligent all the way through his rehab and progressing to each step,” Stevens said of Hayward. “I watched him go all the way through the steps of working out to 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and now he can play some of the open gyms some of the guys are having.”
Irving and Hayward, like most of the Celtics, won’t play major minutes in the preseason.
“I don’t think anyone will play a ton in the first week,” Stevens said. “That’s too quick. Usually you have five or six days before your first game. But to have three days and we play the second one right after that. We’re basically breaking our camp down from a staffing standpoint into two separate camps. The first one is, getting back together, making sure we’re fluid in what we’re trying to accomplish for the most part on offense and defense playing as a team through those first ten days when we have four games. And after that, we have a full eight-day period. We’ll basically treat it like another camp, as we get ready for the regular season. I don’t anticipate anybody hitting the 25-minute mark in any of those early games.”
Stevens knows not to put too much stock in what he sees early on from his players. This is especially true for Irving and Hayward.
“I think like anything there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Stevens said.
But that reality has to be balanced with an earlier-than-usual preseason schedule which will present its own unique sets of challenges.
The days of easing into the preseason, at least this year, are gone.
“If we’re not ready for the competitive side, that’ll smack us in the face pretty quick,” Stevens said. “But that’s part of getting ready for a season.”