The Kyrie brand continues to expand

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The Kyrie brand continues to expand

LOS ANGELES – With Tinseltown as the backdrop, Kyrie Irving’s acting debut in the film, "Uncle Drew the Movie," will officially hit movie theaters this summer.

A five-time All-star and NBA champion, Irving is one of the few NBA players with a signature shoe deal.

And that deal, along with him venturing into the film game, speaks to the ever-expansion of the Irving brand. During Saturday’s media scrum, a time when the sports journalism world chimes in with a wide array of questions for the best players on the planet, some of the first ones asked were in regards to his upcoming movie.

They came from former Celtic Nate Robinson, who is in the movie as well.

That said, it still doesn’t diminish the fact that Irving is setting himself up to be more than just a talented basketball player.

“It comes with a lot of sacrifice, privacy,” Irving said before adding, “but you get a chance to put your creative influence and inspiration on things that have helped you develop as a person. You get to share that with the world. That’s pretty awesome. And you get to share it through art, through my game, through different avenues of sponsorship and you’re able to get that message through to people. That’s pretty awesome. I try to take full advantage of that.”

Part of Irving’s all-star weekend was spending time with the press to speak specifically about his upcoming movie.

Irving also made public appearances for corporate partners such as Mountain Dew.

There was a time not that long ago when the idea of an athlete having interests outside of basketball were frowned upon.

But Irving has been moving to a different beat for as long as he has been playing the game of basketball.

And that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

“Sometimes because of the way we’re put on this platform, people have opinions on the way that we should be, how we should act, things that we should be involved with,” Irving said. “The important thing that get’s glazed over is that we’re human beings. So, it’s pretty tough finding that balance.

Irving added, "For me, it’s just about respect all people. That’s something I always try to hammer home, something I was taught as a kid. It’s crazy. You get slack for saying stuff about certain things and feeling strongly, and if you don’t say enough you get the bad end of that as well. If you feel confident and you’re knowledgeable on a lot of things and you feel strongly about it, you should go for it. Everyone has a voice and they should be respected.”


Brad Stevens sends message by emptying bench against Jazz

Brad Stevens sends message by emptying bench against Jazz

BOSTON — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens sent a message to his bipolar team Saturday night, deploying a group of third-stringers in place of some starters over the final nine minutes of a lifeless loss to the visiting Utah Jazz. 

Coming off a high-energy overtime win over the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics came out flat against Utah, dug themselves a familiar double-digit hole, and refused to put in the sort of energy necessary to make things interesting.

So a frustrated Stevens elected to surround Kyrie Irving with the players deepest on his bench, inserting the trio of Guerschon Yabusele, Daniel Theis, and Brad Wanamaker, in place of Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward with the Celtics trailing by 19 with just under nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

What’s more, Jayson Tatum did not play over the final 16 minutes and, despite Stevens’ ragtag lineup making a brief charge, the Jazz easily salted away a 98-86 triumph at TD Garden.

“[Stevens] wasn’t happy, obviously,” said Horford. "I’ll probably just keep [his postgame message to the team] for the locker room. We know what we need to do.”

As best we can parse from the postgame comments of Stevens, Irving, and Horford, Boston lacked the discipline and effort that the coach desired, and Stevens wasn’t going to let his team use its overtime game the night before as an excuse against a Utah team that was playing the second night of a road back-to-back. 

Stevens acknowledged that his team had to build a tougher mindset, especially when shots are not falling. The Celtics shot a dismal 38.5 percent overall, 15.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and an impossibly low 55 percent at the free-throw line. 

Stevens sidestepped a question about whether he was sending a message with his substitutions (“I’m just trying to put in the guys that I think will give us the best chance of cutting the lead down,” said Stevens) but admitted it probably wasn't easy for the starters to digest the move.

"It’s hard, but those [third-string] guys watch all the time. So they deserve the right to compete,” said Stevens. "And we didn’t have any legs, and we had just given up three dunks, and it is what it is. If we’re frustrated about that, it’s fine by me. 

"At the end of the day, I wanted to see those other guys play, because I knew that they would bring great intensity to the game.”

Horford admitted he wanted to be in the game, especially after the third-stringers knocked the lead down to 13 with a quick run. Horford also agreed with the notion that Boston simply is’t playing tough enough.

“[Toughness is] something that always needs to be there. It’s the Celtic way, the way that you want to play and the things that you want to do and set the tone,” said Horford. "Right now, we’re picking our spots for when we want to be and do that.”

After the Celtics’ locker room had cleared out, Irving took his place in front of the cameras and offered a state of the union in which he seemed to suggest that Boston needs more consistency and dependability from its youngest players.

"Coach just wants us to go play hard for him, and he deserves that,” said Irving. "So I don’t blame him for saying we’re lacking toughness, at that point of just willing yourself to be in the right spots, and stay disciplined and be smart enough to follow the game plan.”

Irving opened his seven-minute chat with reporters by referencing how the team settled for a long 3-point attempt after generating a favorable switch for Tatum on their first possession. Irving suggested that players were out of position despite walking through much of their strategy just hours before Saturday’s tip-off.

The trio of Jaylen Brown (1-of-9 shooting, 3 points), Tatum (5 of 11, 10 points), and Terry Rozier (2 of 9, 4 points) have all struggled to positively — and consistently — impact Boston’s play.

"I think guys have gotten better. I think that guys want to take advantage of their talent,” Irving said when asked about Boston’s impatient offense. "I think last year, the young guys that are in the locker room now, some of the guys that are playing, they were a little bit younger. They weren’t expected to do as much and I think that the amount of pressure that we put on them to perform every single night is something that they have to get used to, like being part of a great team like this. 

"If you’re not playing to the standard then, as a team, we just don’t all click. I think once we get that, and we find that consistency, we’ll be good.”

Stevens resisted making changes to his lineup this week despite coming off a disappointing 1-4 road trip. His team responded with a lopsided win over a lottery-bound Bulls team, but then leaned hard on Irving during Friday’s win over the Raptors.

The Jazz game was going to be tough given the energy expended Friday but Stevens couldn’t allow uneven play to linger now nearing the quarter pole of the 2018-19 season.

Now it’s on his players to show they received that message, and plan to make sure they never get stuck on the bench unless games are decidedly in Boston’s favor.

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Brad Stevens: Celtics need 'tougher mental mindset'

Brad Stevens: Celtics need 'tougher mental mindset'

BOSTON – This Boston Celtics team was built to compete for a title in large part because of the talent that Danny Ainge and company assembled.

We’re 16 games into the season, and it’s not the talent that’s in question – it’s the team’s mental toughness.

Saturday’s 98-86 loss to Utah, Boston’s second defeat at the hands of the Jazz this month, wasn’t about another team having a great night at both ends of the floor.

It wasn’t about a superstar player having a game for the ages.

The Utah Jazz, playing the second night of a back-to-back just like the Celtics, simply played a more physical game.

And when it mattered, it was their mental toughness that prevailed.

Following the loss, it’s clear that the team’s inability to sustain any level of mental toughness for a long stretch of time, was among the many things at the forefront of his thoughts.

“We have to build a tougher team mindset than we have,” Stevens said. “I mean, we just don’t have that mindset yet that we need.”

And that is a disturbing commentary when you consider that this team by and large, is the same team that Stevens had a year ago.

Actually, this group should be even better when you consider Kyrie Irving is in a much better state health-wise, and Gordon Hayward is continuing to inch closer to the All-Star player we knew prior to suffering a season-ending injury in the season-opener last year.

Despite the rise in overall talent, Boston (9-7) finds itself just two games over-.500 when so many anticipated they would run away with the Eastern Conference now that LeBron James has taken his talents to La-La land.

“We have to find ways to be good every night,” said Boston’s Gordon Hayward. “I felt like, we found a way to win (Friday) night (versus Toronto). It was an emotional win for us. Great teams bring it the next night. So, we have to be better.”

The concerns about mental toughness for this team manifest themselves, at least they did on Saturday, in how they handled a slew of missed shots that were open as well as contested looks.

Heads began to slump, eyes began to roll and for no significant period of time were they able to put their shooting troubles aside and do what you’re supposed to do in those situations – keep playing rather than sulk.

Boston shot below 40 percent from the field in every quarter except for the second as they connected on just 38.5 percent of their shots for the game.

Making a bad game even worse for Boston, was that their best scorer Kyrie Irving was in major foul trouble. He picked up his fifth personal foul in the third quarter at the 5:12 mark.

He returned in the fourth quarter and wound up leading the Celtics with 20 points, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the struggles of just about every other Boston scorer which is evident by the team’s No. 2 scorer for Saturday being Jayson Tatum who had just 10 points.

Regardless of whether you buy the mental toughness as an issue theory, one thing is abundantly clear with this Celtics team.

The things that they do well, are not being done consistently enough or with the kind of focus and fight that championship-caliber teams display.

And with those struggles have come what appears to be a gradual erosion of the team’s overall confidence.

“Maybe there’s something there, with that,” Stevens said. “I think there’s a lot of things that it could be, but at the end of the day, you know, you build confidence through doing hard things over and over and over, because that’s your focus. That’s your intent. Your job is your focus. You know what you’re supposed to do.

Stevens added, “you perform every assignment, you do it physically, you do it tough, and then all of a sudden, the ball goes in. It’s just kind of funny how it works. The game honors it.”

The bright spot: If there's a coach equipped to get the Celtics back on track, it's Stevens. Just ask his former player, Jazz forward Jae Crowder.

"Whatever they’re lacking, they can build as the season goes on," Crowder said Saturday night. "They just have to believe it, and believe in Brad. He’s able to bring that out of guys."

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