Celtics

Celtics fans can turn the page after Kyrie Irving breaks his silence

Celtics fans can turn the page after Kyrie Irving breaks his silence

One hundred, forty-two days after the Boston Celtics’ 2018-19 season flamed out in Milwaukee, and 90 days after formally signaling his intentions to sign with the rival Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving offered his first public comments Friday while detailing the emotional struggles that he endured last season and how they contributed to him reneging on his original declaration to re-sign in Boston.

You can read Irving's four-minute, 800+ word riposte that highlighted his turn at the podium at Nets’ media day HERE.

The question for Celtics fans in the aftermath: Did Irving say what you needed to hear to move forward?

Irving opened himself up on Friday. He divulged his personal struggle to focus following the death of his grandfather last October. He admitted that the loss took the joy of basketball and “sucked it away from me.” Irving noted how hoops duties prevented him from having a chance to say goodbye to his grandfather before he passed and made him re-prioritize his future desires, including putting a premium on being closer to his New Jersey roots.

Irving also took some accountability for both the way his attitude impacted the team and the failures of the 2018-19 Celtics. Said Irving: “I failed [Celtics teammates] in a sense that I didn’t give them everything that I could have. … My relationships with them, personally, were great but, in terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed.”

Many Celtics fans were bothered when Irving didn’t take accountability for his own struggles, particularly as Boston lost four straight to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Irving seemed unfocused at times, particularly the way he haphazardly called for defensive switches and guarded league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Quizzed on his offensive struggles late in that series, Irving barked, “Who cares?” 

On Friday, Irving noted, "For me, it’s like just a huge learning experience just to slow down and acknowledge that I’m human in all this.”

Some will wonder if Irving’s intentions were pure in suggesting his grandfather’s loss impacted the entirety of the 2018-19 season. It’s important to remember that everyone grieves differently. Celtics fans might have an irrationally high barometer for moving on after watching Isaiah Thomas produce some insanely gutsy basketball in the face of tragedy after the untimely passing of his younger sister. Thomas willed Boston to the 2017 conference finals before a hip injury ultimately forced him to shut down. The Celtics traded Thomas to Cleveland that summer as part of the deal to acquire Irving.

In his verbose way, Irving also left himself open to scrutiny by contradicting himself at times. He downplayed his connection to the city of Boston while noting, "I had no type of affiliation with Boston before I left Cleveland,” though he routinely cited here how his parents met while his father played at Boston University, and it was the reason he ultimately chose No. 11 (the same digits he famously yearned to put in the rafters at TD Garden).

Irving also fell into old habits while blaming some of Boston’s struggles on the team's younger players. Near the end of his response on what changed in Boston, Irving said, “Everyone has a role to play. And you see the most experienced teams end up winning the championships because they all buy in and they sacrifice. It’s usually the oldest teams in the league that make it there every single year because they don’t have to deal with the same youthful expectations that are unrealistic for players that really have to earn different things in this league to be at that level -- including myself.”

Ultimately, some confluence of emotional strain early in the 2018-19 season left Irving wondering if he might be able to find happiness and fulfillment elsewhere. When the questions about his free agency picked up in February, it’s clear now that he shut down completely. 

We can forever wonder whether Irving might have been more inclined to honor his commitment if the Celtics hadn’t struggled so mightily and the team had come closer to reaching its potential. Maybe the joy of winning basketball could have eased the difficulty of losing a loved one.

Irving was never bound to his preseason declaration, as both sides routinely noted in the aftermath. As a free agent, he made a decision to seek a new adventure. The Celtics were content to turn the page in the aftermath and embrace a new era of their own.

Irving’s peek behind the curtain Friday should allow Celtics fans to turn the page as well. 

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Celtics vs. Kings Instant Overreactions: C's starting to feel Gordon Hayward's absence?

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AP photo

Celtics vs. Kings Instant Overreactions: C's starting to feel Gordon Hayward's absence?

The Boston Celtics had their 10-game win streak snapped on Sunday as they fell to the Sacramento Kings, 100-99.

It came down to the final buzzer as Marcus Smart's last-second floater hung on the rim, but failed to fall into the basket.

Here are three instant overreactions from the loss, which brings the C's to 10-2 on the season:

1. The C's are starting to feel Gordon Hayward's absence.

Verdict: Overreaction

The Celtics have looked out of sync offensively in their last couple of games. Friday night's close call vs. the lowly Golden State Warriors left plenty to be desired, and their struggles in Sunday's loss didn't do much to inspire confidence either as they turned the ball over 14 times.

If we see one or two more lackluster performances like this on the West Coast road trip, it may be time to start counting down the days until Hayward's return. But for now, I'm willing to give the C's talented offensive unit the benefit of the doubt.

2. Jaylen Brown and Buddy Hield both are showing they're worth every penny.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Jaylen Brown finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, going 4-for-7 from 3-point range. Once again, he was one of Boston's standout performers on the offensive side and is backing up his statement about his game improving.

As for Hield, he continues to reward the Kings for signing him to a four-year, $86 million contract extension last month. The Celtics simply had no answer for the Indiana product, who dropped 35 points while going 7-for-12 in 3-pointers. Hield also drilled a key 3 late in the fourth quarter to help Sacramento come out on top.

3. Semi Ojeleye is the new Steph Curry.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

OK, fine, it may be a SLIGHT overreaction. Still, Ojeleye surprised everyone by going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and tallying 11 points off the bench. He was one of the bright spots in the Celtics' disappointing loss.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Celtics-Kings Takeaways: C's 10-game win streak snapped in Sacramento

Celtics-Kings Takeaways: C's 10-game win streak snapped in Sacramento

So. Close. 

Marcus Smart’s potential game-winning floater as time expired hit seemingly every part of the rim, paused for a moment before rolling out as time expired in Boston’s 100-99 loss to Sacramento. 

‘It was a good look in that moment,” Boston’s Brad Stevens told reporters after the loss. 

The loss snapped Boston’s 10-game winning streak, in addition to preventing them from being the first team in NBA history to win 11 in a row after dropping the season opener.

Sacramento (5-7), after dropping their first five games this season, have now won five of their last seven with the lone losses being a road game at defending NBA champion Toronto and a controversial defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers.  

After spending most of the first half playing catch-up, the Celtics — in all-too predictable form — swung the game’s momentum in their favor in the third quarter to take a 75-71 lead into the fourth quarter despite the offensive fireworks put on by Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (game-high 35 points). 

In the fourth, Boston’s slim lead didn’t last long with the Kings tying the game at 75 less than a minute into the quarter, only for Carsen Edwards to drain a 3-pointer to put Boston back on top, 78-75.

Things remained close for the rest of the game before Smart’s potential game-winner rolled out as time expired.  

Here are some takeaways from Boston’s one-point loss at Sacramento.

KEMBA IN THE FOURTH QUARTER

We have come to expect the best from Kemba Walker when the game matters most: the fourth quarter. That was not the case on Sunday, with Walker going scoreless in the fourth quarter to finish with just 15 points. You certainly love the season-high nine assists he tallied, but Walker’s greatest impact on this team night-in, night-out is his scoring down the stretch.

BUDDY HIELD 

The Kings gave Hield a four-year contract extension worth as much as $106 million, and he showed on Sunday why he's worth every penny. Time and time again, he came up with one big shot after another while often being draped by Boston's best perimeter defender — and one of the best in the NBA — Marcus Smart.  Hield led all scorers with 35 points on an efficient 14-for-24 shooting performance from the field.

TURNOVERS

One of the biggest keys to the Celtics’ fast start to the season has been their ability to limit their mistakes. They came into Sunday’s game averaging a league-low 11.7 per game. On Sunday, the Celtics committed 12 of their 15 turnovers in the first half alone.

SEMI (OJELEYE) AUTOMATIC

Ojeleye hit a big 3-pointer in the second quarter, capping off a 7-0 Celtics run to bring Boston within four points (36-32) with 6:30 to play in the first half. He would finish the day with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field, including a career-high-tying three 3-pointers. It was indeed a breakout scoring game for Ojeleye who came into Sunday’s game having scored just 14 points in Boston’s 11 games this season. 

THEIS IS NICE

While his play doesn’t necessarily find a home on the Celtics’ highlight reel, there’s no getting around the impact that Daniel Theis continues to make on this team. Usually he does it by excelling at intangibles such as setting screens, boxing out and rolling to the basket. But on Sunday, Theis’s impact was made in the more traditional sense: getting points. He finished with a season-high 14 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double this season. It was also the second time in the last three games Theis has reached double figures scoring. 

LINE ‘EM UP

The Celtics did not shoot the ball well against the Kings, but their aggressive play offensively led to a number of trips to the free throw line, which was a huge difference-maker in the game’s outcome. For the game, the Celtics were 21-for-24 from the line, compared to the Kings who were just 10-for-12 at the free throw line, which included Richaun Holmes’ game-winning free throws with 13.3 seconds to play. 

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.