Celtics winning games - and winning over Irving with late-season success

Celtics winning games - and winning over Irving with late-season success

INDIANAPOLIS -- Kyrie Irving is a six-time All-Star, one of the best late-game scorers in the NBA.

And yet there he was in the fourth quarter on Friday night, in the most important game of the Celtics season, doing the same thing you and I were doing - watching the Celtics pour on the points and in doing so, making a point in a crushing 117-97 blowout win at Indiana about a week before these two are expected to meet in a first-round playoff series. 

Not only did it all but secure home-court advantage for the Celtics when they meet the Pacers again, but it showcased both the promise and elite-level potential surrounding Irving on a night when the spotlight, for a regular0season game at least, had not been any brighter. 

And when you are the Celtics, who are trying to do their all in convincing Irving to stay long-term, these are the games that make it more difficult for him to take his talents elsewhere.

There’s no question Irving has had his share of rocky moments with the Celtics this season, whether it’s referring to “the young guys” one or two (or three or…) times too many when they screw up, or committing to re-sign with the team in October and essentially doing an about-face a few months later.

He is indeed a difficult player to figure out, for sure. 

Still, the one thing that has been constant with him during his time in Boston, is his desire to win. 

And as much as the Celtics lean on him to carry the squad on many nights, the fact that they could dominate a team as desperate as the Pacers and not need Irving to have a monster game to do so, speaks volumes about where this team is now and how far they can go. 

Boston won’t have many games in the playoffs, if any, where Irving can play just 27 minutes and that be more than enough for them to win. 

But the fact that this team has that potential and they put it together in what was easily the biggest game of the season, says a lot about this team’s growth. 

And if you sift through Irving’s comments most of the season, he has talked often about growth and its importance to this team as the season progressed. 

The way Jayson Tatum took over for stretches and maintained an elite level of aggressiveness… how Gordon Hayward is looking more like All-Star Gordon Hayward from a couple of years ago…Al Horford delivering a little bit of everything…Aron Baynes becoming Mr. Double-Double with three in his last five games...

How much all that resonates with Irving, remains to be seen. 

But if you’re the Celtics, you know for a fact it was the kind of victory that can only help their chances of keeping Irving around beyond this season, which remains Boston’s top priority. 

He is a dynamic talent who has already won an NBA title, but knows he can not win another one by himself. 

Irving knows he’ll need others to step up, step out and deliver on the biggest of stages. 

While he has caught heat at times this season for what many believe is him picking on the younger players, multiple Celtics have talked both publicly and privately about how Irving’s confidence and faith in his younger teammates have never wavered. 

“It doesn’t always come out right, what he says, but he’s got our back,” one of his teammates told NBC Sports Boston. 

It is that ultra-competitive streak in Irving that at times has made him a polarizing figure on this team, and in the eyes of opposing teams and players. 

But he desperately wants to be with a group that’s just as hungry for success and are capable of playing with that much-needed edge when it matters - a team such as the one we saw on Friday night that had him doing what we tend to do when it comes to him and the Celtics, and that’s watch it all unfold. 

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NBA Preview: Five breakout players to watch for during 2019-20 season

NBA Preview: Five breakout players to watch for during 2019-20 season

After an offseason that completely changed the balance of power in the NBA, an intriguing regular season is just around the corner.

There are a bunch of interesting storylines to follow, but amid all the upheaval around the league, one storyline remains constant, year after year.

Which players will turn the corner and have a breakout campaign, ascending to NBA stardom? Pascal Siakam turned the trick last year and was recognized with the league's Most Improved Player Award.

But who will follow in his footsteps this season? A. Sherrod Blakely surveyed the league and identified five players who could break out in 2019-20 based on the roles they're expected to play.

Click here for his list of breakout players to watch for in 2019-20.>>>>>

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Fantasy basketball 2019: Top 10 sleepers to target in your draft

Fantasy basketball 2019: Top 10 sleepers to target in your draft

Everyone knows that in fantasy sports, picking proper sleepers is what can make or break your team. In fantasy basketball, it's no different.

While the NBA runs on star power, there are plenty of solid contributors who make up starting lineups and fill key bench roles. Many young players als make massive strides during their first few seasons in the NBA, so they often end up being breakout candidates.

Picking which players are going to be breakout candidates can be tough. The last thing you want to do is overdraft a guy with upside who ends up plateauing and turning into a bust.

But you also have to make risky picks to ensure you field a competitive team. And that means finding the next great sleeper pick.

With that in mind, we pored over NBA rosters and attempted to find 10 sleepers who could end up being gems in 2019 fantasy drafts.

All ADP data is courtesy of FantasyPros.com. Last updated 10/17/19.

Bam Adebayo, C, Heat (ADP: 74). The Miami Heat moved on from Hassan Whiteside this offseason in order to roll with Adebayo as their primary starter at center. Adebayo is a great all-around player who averaged 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game last season despite playing just 23.3 minutes per game. In a full-time starting role, Adebayo could come closer to matching his numbers per 36 minutes from last season (13.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks). Considering Adebayo’s defensive prowess and his growth between his rookie season and sophomore campaign, he is a big-time breakout candidate and should come off the board a lot earlier than the 74th pick.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Thunder (ADP: 80). The Thunder underwent massive changes during the offseason by trading Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Both players were ball-dominant scoring options for Oklahoma City: Westbrook had a 30.9 percent usage rate and George had a 29.8 percent usage rate. Their departure will open up the offense more for others to produce. While all eyes are currently on Chris Paul as the top fantasy option, Gilgeous-Alexander can’t be forgotten. The rookie played in all 82 games for the Clippers last season and averaged 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He could grow a lot in his second season and given that he only had an 18.3 percent usage rate in Los Angeles, he could really make the leap if that number climbs into the low-20s.

Steven Adams, C, Thunder (ADP: 58). Much like with Gilgeous-Alexander, Adams has the opportunity to take on a bigger offensive role for the Thunder. Adams has improved his numbers every year since coming into the league and nearly averaged a double-double last season (13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds). His scoring numbers could go up with more chances to shoot the ball inside and his defensive ability (1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks per game) should help him outproduce his draft slot, as well. He’s coming off the board as the No. 17 overall center, but he could end up being a top-12 player at the position, if not better.

Jaylen Brown, SG/SF, Celtics (ADP: 109). Currently, Brown is being drafted behind the likes of Nicolas Batum, Terrence Ross, and Bojan Bogdanovic. That just doesn’t seem right. Brown figures to have a bigger role in the Celtics’ offense as a starter this season after averaging 13.0 points, 4.2 boards, and 1.4 assists off the bench this season. He showed off his improved skill set this preseason and could have an opportunity for more rebounds and steals as his defense improves. Also, since Brown is playing for his next contract, that will be added motivation for him to find success and perform well.

Malcolm Brogdon, PG/SG, Pacers (ADP: 66). Malcolm Brogdon put up a 50-40-90 season with the Bucks in 2018-19 and had an effective field goal percentage of 57.5. That efficiency is what led the Pacers to offer him a big contract in free agency. Brogdon has improved his scoring average every year since coming into the NBA three seasons ago, and he averaged 15.6 points per game last year as a third option on a loaded Bucks team. With Victor Oladipo still out and Darren Collison retiring, Brogdon could be the secondary option to Myles Turner in Indiana. He'll likely play point guard for the Pacers, too, which will give his 3.2 assists per game from last season a chance to improve. Even if Brogdon is less efficient, his volume of opportunity should increase on a team that has decidedly fewer star options than Milwaukee.

Derrick White, PG/SG, Spurs (ADP: 99). White is ranked very closely to Dejounte Murray (ADP 105) despite the fact that Murray missed all of last season with a torn ACL. White’s growth through two seasons mirrored that of Murray’s, and White got some extra action with Gregg Popovich during Team USA’s time at the FIBA World Cup. White averaged 9.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists last season in about 26 minutes per game. If he can continue to lock down a similar starting role and grow entering his third season, he should outproduce those numbers, even with Murray's return. One big way for him to do that would be to improve his 3-point shooting percentage (33.8 percent).

Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Magic (ADP: 95). Isaac is continuing to grow his game and seems ready to make the leap after an impressive preseason in which he averaged 10 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game over 24.4 minutes. It’ll be hard to find a mid-draft small forward with more defensive upside than Isaac, so he should be a breakout target to go after in the middle rounds.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, Kings (ADP: 122). The lesser-know Bogdanovic brother improved his scoring average to 14.1 points per game while averaging 3.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season. He could continue to grow into an important part of the Sacramento offense, even if he is primarily being used as a bench player. Bogdanovic could be just as productive as his brother, Bojan, who is going 30 spots ahead of him, so Bogdan qualifies as a great value pickup.

Elfrid Payton, PG, Knicks (ADP: 208). Payton averaged 12.8 points, 9.2 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes last year with the Pelicans. This was despite having a usage rate of just 18.3 percent. Payton is behind Dennis Smith in the Knicks’ point-guard rotation, but he figures to be a crucial sixth- man for the team and could be a great facilitator for the young talent on the Knicks roster. It’s also worth noting that Smith missed 32 games last season and 13 in his first NBA season, so Payton could be in line for some work as a starter, though he has also had health concerns in each of the past two seasons.

Ish Smith, PG, Wizards (ADP: Undrafted). Somebody has to be Washington’s point guard and Isaiah Thomas is a bit banged up. Smith isn’t a flashy player, but he averaged 14.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per 36 minutes with the Pistons last year. He could be a solid contributor in Washington, especially with the team lacking proven, healthy options at point guard. Scoop him up toward the end of the draft, especially if you end up taking a chance on Thomas.

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