Celtics

If you haven't handled Kyrie well, good luck with Davis

If you haven't handled Kyrie well, good luck with Davis

I'm gonna bury the lede here. 

Kyrie Irving is the best player on the Boston freaking Celtics. Everything he does, right or wrong, is going to get a ton of attention, just like it would -- and I shudder to say this -- in New York. 

He's had an outstanding season. The 26-year-old has set career highs in assists and rebounds, while tying his career-best in steals per game. 

He's also been imperfect, just like the rest of us (read the Bible one time for me). His first go at leading a team hasn't exactly been Garnett-esque. Furthermore, he's said and done things that have screamed "bad teammate." Whether intentionally or not, his lack of renewing his vows with the Celtics during a rocky season for the team has reopened the door for speculation that he'll leave them in free agency. 

Translation: Kyrie Irving is my favorite basketball player and the last however many months have even stressed me out. Of course, he can all go away with a simple "I can't wait to play the first of many, many playoff games with the Celtics" quote this week, but he's a different cat. I can't imagine it'll be that easy. 

But not everyone likes Kyrie that much. They get more frustrated with him throwing teammates under the bus and getting chesty with the press. This season has proven that being a great player and law-abiding citizen is not always enough for fans who read into every word and every shot of the bench. They need the character. They need the respectable teammate. They need the guy who night in, night out looks like they want to be there. 

... But y'all want Anthony Davis? 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

There's being difficult and there's being 2018-19 Anthony Davis. If you can't handle how Kyrie's acted this season, there is absolutely no way you can be on board with an Anthony Davis. Or let me phrase it this way: If you've had a bad time with Kyrie, you're a glutton for punishment if you'd welcome a potentially similar story with a guy who *just* showed us what he does. 

And remember: Kyrie you stole. You don't even get your potential Davis headache without giving up your next Paul Pierce in Jayson Tatum. 

We all know why the Celtics would want AD. He's a top-10 player and he's 25. He also can and likely will opt out of his deal after next season, at which point the Woj and Shams (that's not how it's pronounced) murmurs suggest he'll sign with the Lakers. 

If trading for Davis keeps Irving here and yields an iron-clad commitment from AD, that's one thing. But here's a quick look at Davis from the past eight months to help inform the other scenario. He:  

  • left his agent to team up with Rich Paul (the LeBron guy) and Klutch Sports (the LeBron place) in September; 
  • had his agent (the LeBron guy) tell ESPN on the record that he wished to be traded, knowing public trade demands were against the collective bargaining agreement. In other words, paid $50,000 in fine money to tell the world he wanted out; 
  • wore a t-shirt that read "That's all, folks!" to New Orleans' final game of the season, then gave the single whackest excuse in world history as to why he did. 

And yes, he said that Boston was technically on the list of teams to which he'd like to be traded, but in the same breath, he said every team was. That was a hollow endorsement. 

On one hand, at least Davis hasn't been "cryptic," a common complaint about Kyrie. He's been overt in not being a great teammate or leader. 

And sure, the Pelicans stink and Davis isn't in as good a situation as Kyrie. Still, if this is how he acts in the year leading up to his presumed trade, how is he going to act in the year leading up to his unrestricted free agency? 

People have called Kyrie "Mini LeBron" for the way he's carried himself at points. Considering the Klutch union, if Kyrie is Mini LeBron, AD is Anthony James. 

If you think Kyrie's attitude or disposition would hold him back from leading a team to a title, how in the world could you feel good about AD? The man literally walked into a room full of his teammates wearing a shirt that, paraphrased, read "Eff y'all; I'm gone." 

What's that shirt going to say at the end of next season in Boston? Is it just going to be a purple and yellow shirt with LeBron's face on it? 

After a season of stressing over what Kyrie will do, do you really want another year of that kind of guessing? 

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Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ fourth-quarter execution the past two games can be summed up in one sequence.

After clawing their way back into Thursday night’s visit from the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston found itself down 3 with 25.7 seconds to go with the ball. But the Sixers applied full-court pressure and inbounder Jayson Tatum panicked a bit while waiting for Jaylen Brown to race back to receive the pass. Brown ultimately got tangled with Josh Richardson and fell to the floor as Tatum’s pass sailed wide and bounced out of bounds near the Sixers' bench.

Painful as it would have been, the Celtics could have burnt their final timeout. They could have simply handled Philadelphia’s pressure better and not fumbled the ball — and the game — away.

Ultimately, great teams find a way to win this sort of game. Or the one 24 hours earlier when Boston kicked away a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Indiana.

Save the excuses about available bodies and bad calls and whatever else you want to blame. The Celtics, seemingly unflappable in the face of in-game adversity early in the year, wilted twice against primary Eastern Conference rivals the past 48 hours.

Because of that, Boston arrives at a very random five-day December break in its schedule at a respectable 17-7 overall, but with a bit of a sour taste from dropping two games against potential East playoff foes. The Celtics have slipped to fourth in the conference with Philadelphia executing a leapfrog after Thursday’s 115-109 triumph at TD Garden.

“We just have to learn how to win,” said Kemba Walker, who scored a team-high 29 points against Philadelphia but got limited to 8 points with only one field goal after the intermission. All this one day after Boston wasted a 44-point outburst when Indiana rallied for a 122-117 victory.

"We have a lot of lapses during these games. We have stretches where we’re playing super well. And then we have lapses,” said Walker. “We just have times where we’re just — it’s bad. It just looks really bad. So we just have to tone that down a little bit, just try our best to put a 48-minute games together. And that’s going to take everybody.”

Maybe it’s greedy to suggest the Celtics should win these sort of games. After an opening-night loss in Philadelphia, Boston ripped off 10 straight wins and had won six of seven entering this week’s back-to-back. These young Celtics had been so cool under pressure that it’s been a bit jarring to see them get sloppy and shoot themselves in the foot with mental miscues.

"I think, going in, when you look at the schedule you know this is going to be a tough one but, once you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re not really feeling those effects,” said Gordon Hayward, who departed Wednesday’s game in Indiana after getting hit in the nose but didn’t look overly hindered against Philadelphia.

"I think two emotional losses for us. Certainly, it’s tough in games that go down to the wire. I felt like we had chances in both. But it is what it is. It’s a long season, it’s part of it. We’ve got to try to learn from it and move on but we can’t blame it on legs. We’re professional athletes. We should be able to handle that.”

Yes, Marcus Smart would help in these situations. But the Pacers were playing without Victor Oladipo, and the Sixers didn’t have Al Horford, who got a standing ovation when shown on the Philadelphia bench at the start of the second quarter.

The Celtics, if they want to be honest-to-goodness contenders, need to win these sort of games. It was one thing to find a silver lining when they took the Clippers to overtime last month on the road but the last two games have lacked the defensive focus displayed during much of Boston’s early-season success.

To be sure, there are positives to pluck from these two games. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter held up surprisingly well while jousting with Joel Embiid. Philadelphia’s All-Star big man finished with 38 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 13 rebounds and 6 assists. He did a nice job dominating in 1-on-1 matchups and showcased his passing skills while generating open looks for teammates when Boston sent multiple bodies at him.

Kanter turned in his best game of the year and Theis played well for much of the night. The duo combined for 36 points and14 rebounds, essentially negating Embiid’s output (though his impact went far beyond those two stat categories).

The next step for these Celtics is consistently staying poised in high-pressure moments. Players have to avoid careless turnovers, they have to be willing to work for good looks on the offensive end, and they can’t lose focus on the defensive side.

While it’s obvious the Celtics never consider themselves out of a game, they’ve got to be better when things get tense.

"One thing I love about us is that we’re not quitting. We’re still fighting through adversity,” said Walker. "When things are getting rough we’re not putting our heads down, man. We’re competing at a very high level. So it can only go up from here.”

Unfortunately for Stevens, it’s plays like the inbounds turnover that will gnaw at him until the Celtics get back on the practice court next week. Boston doesn’t play another game until Wednesday night in Dallas.

That’s a lot of time to ponder how Thursday’s game got away. And Wednesday’s before it.

“We didn’t get the ball [inbounds],” Stevens said after Thursday’s loss. "I think that’s obviously -- you gotta be able to do those things in the biggest moments and we didn’t get that done.”

Blakely's Takeaways: Kanter shows his worth despite losing effort>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

BOSTON -- Few professional athletes embrace hate like Joel Embiid.

The Philadelphia 76ers big man channeled recent criticism from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal into a tour de force performance at TD Garden on Thursday night, tallying a season-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to hand the Boston Celtics their first home loss, 115-109.

Embiid also fed off the Garden crowd, which booed the big man heartily throughout the night.

The 25-year-old tipped his cap to the Boston faithful after the game, admitting the loudest crowd he's ever dealt with in an NBA game was the Garden during a second-round playoff game in 2018.

"They've got great fans. They're loud," Embiid said. "The loudest (game) I've ever been a part of was actually here in Game 2, two years ago in the playoffs.

"We were up by 20 and they made their run. It was loud and my ears were popping. That's the loudest (it's) ever been (for me) in an arena."

The Celtics stormed back to win that game 108-103, taking a 2-0 series lead over Philly en route to a five-game series win.

A year and a half later, Boston wasn't so lucky.

Embiid had been in a bit of funk over his last few games but seemed revitalized by the hostile Garden environment, relishing in making big plays like this dagger 3-pointer in the fourth quarter:

"They talk a lot of trash, and I like that," Embiid said. "It gets me going. I had that fun mentality about me tonight. Just reacting to them and playing off it."

Boston and Philly will meet twice more this season, with the Sixers coming to the Garden again on Feb. 1. Celtics fans can boo Embiid all they want, but they should be warned that it may not have the desired effect.

"Joel really set the tone of how we were going to play today," Sixers teammate Tobias Harris added. "His energy, his interactions at timeouts and dead balls: He was the man today."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.