Celtics

Kyrie Irving after 1-4 road trip: 'We're not as good as we think we are'

Kyrie Irving after 1-4 road trip: 'We're not as good as we think we are'

Kyrie Irving said he will not panic over the Boston Celtics’ uneven start to the 2018-19 season but, echoing what coach Brad Stevens has said multiple times this year, the All-Star point guard acknowledged that the Celtics are not as good as they believe they are.


"We needed this [poor road trip]. We’re not as good as we think we are,” Irving said after the Celtics’ erased a 21-point deficit but couldn’t cap their comeback while falling to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night. 

"That’s really what it comes down to. I said it at the beginning of the season: The excitement is just done. It’s real basketball now so it’s not just about the potential of the team or where we’ll be at the end of the season. It’s right now, and taking care of what presently is in front of us. 

"We have challenges, we have barriers to get over as a team [and] individually. I’m going to be the most patient out of everyone. I’m not going to get too frazzled, too high or too low or anything like that. It’s a long season. I just understand that, for us to be special, we just have to get through some challenges.”

The Celtics turned in another first-half dud in Portland, digging themselves a monster hole that required a furious second-half surge. Unlike in Phoenix, where Boston stole its only win of the trip in overtime against a basement-dweller, Boston could not get over the hump in Portland.

As Stevens tried to absorb some of the blame for Boston’s inconsistent play, Irving called on Boston players to come together to figure out what’s ailing them during a  7-6 start to the new season.

"It takes a collective effort,” said Irving. "Until we all get on the same page with that, we’re gonna have lulls. … We could blame anybody in this locker room for one thing or another. But I think, collectively, our responsibility is just to collectively be on the right page and understand that.”

Irving tried to put into words the frustration that Boston has obvious talent but hasn’t been able to maximize it yet.

"When we come out here and play, it’s not anything different than other teams playing at a higher effort level than we are. And it comes to getting punched in the mouth a few times and then we come out and clearly we outmatch teams at dang near every position,” said Irving. "We have a lot of good players. And when I say, ‘outmatch,' I mean in terms of the groups we have out there we pretty much have a mismatch every time out there down the floor. So it comes with discipline. It comes with understanding. It comes with experience of just being on a team like this.

"We can’t have empty possessions, so whoever is shooting the shot, if they feel like it’s a great shot, then we all have to feel comfortable with it. I think it just comes with, just some experience. Looking at this locker room, me being in my eighth year and being a ‘veteran’ as well as Al [Horford] and [Aron] Baynes. Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint, when you want to play, when you want to do what you want to do.”

Boston’s funk comes as East rivals Toronto (12-1) and Milwaukee (10-3) have exploded out of the gates. Over the weekend, Philadelphia traded for Jimmy Butler, infusing a veteran talent onto a young roster and announcing that the 76ers would not be content to wait another year to be a legitimate contender.

The Celtics, the presumed favorite to sit atop the East after LeBron James took his talents to Hollywood, will endure a long cross-country flight back to Boston on Monday while trying to wrap their heads around why they can’t put together 48 minutes of consistent basketball.

"It’s all about attitude and effort,” said Irving. "That’s all it is.”

Stevens sounded hesitant to make wholesale changes given how his team has played well in spurts this season. And yet it’s hard not to wonder if the team has to do something to shake it from the early season funk.

For now, Stevens tried to put the blame on himself.

"You find your flow by making the next right play and playing hard, that’s it. When you’re in the game, you have a job to do on that possession, you do it,” said Stevens. “Then, if you do it really well over and over again, you have a good team. We’re not there yet and so that, to me, is well-coached teams get there; we’re not a well-coached team right now, that’s pretty obvious.”

Celtics players said that not one single player — or coach -- deserved blame for this funk.

“Everybody plays a part, but there’s only so much Brad can do,” said Jayson Tatum, who matched his career high with 27 points in Portland. "We have to go out there, hit shots, follow the game plan, and stop guys from scoring. There’s only so much he can do from the sideline.”


Could this road trip actually help the team, as Irving suggested?

“It probably will help us, the reality check that we might not be as good as everybody said we are at this moment, so we gotta get back home,” said Tatum. "I know everybody wants to go back home, and we need to figure some things out.”

And, if the Celtics need a kick in the pants, they’ve got guys in the locker room who are willing to do that as well.

"Marcus Smart was telling us after the game that there’s no more excuses,” said Horford. "We need to be better.”

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Could blowing a 28-point lead deliver a first-round pick to Boston?

Could blowing a 28-point lead deliver a first-round pick to Boston?

Could the so-called worst loss of the Brad Stevens era actually help deliver a first-round pick to Boston in June?

The Los Angeles Clippers, who roared back from a 28-point deficit to stun the Celtics here earlier this month, are set to send their 2019 first-round pick to Boston if it lands outside the lottery. That means Los Angeles would have to make the playoffs, which seemed unlikely after the Clippers dealt Tobias Harris to Philadelphia before the trade deadline.

But as the race for the final Western Conference playoff spots begins to take shape, the Clippers find themselves with pole position next to fellow hopefuls Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. What’s more, the Athletic reported Friday that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer prefers the team make a playoff push this season. 

On the surface, it sounds counterproductive for the Clippers considering a lottery pick could be beneficial to the team’s rebuilding process, even as they prepare to chase max-contract free agents this summer. But let the Celtics stand as a model of how even a small taste of the postseason can help a young core, especially right before the team adds top-end talent. The Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics got a couple small bites of the playoffs a few years back and, as soon as the team added Al Horford in the summer of 2016, it rocketed the team to the conference finals.

The Clippers won on the road over the Grizzlies on Friday night to improve to 33-27 on the season and now sit 2 games ahead of the Kings and 3 ahead of the Lakers.

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Entering Friday’s action, projections heavily favored the Clippers making the postseason. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gave the team a whopping 80.6 percent chance to make the playoffs based on the team’s performance throughout the season, with the Lakers (9.2 percent) and Kings (8.6 percent) lagging well behind.

Even FiveThirtyEight's NBA projections, which factor in roster and lineup changes, important considering the Clippers’ trade, had the team at 62 percent to make the playoffs, a comfortable distance ahead of the Lakers (28 percent) and Kings (9 percent).

The Celtics would benefit from both the Clippers making the playoffs and the Kings missing out. Boston will collect Sacramento’s first-round pick, so long as it doesn’t vault to No. 1 in the lottery.

Entering Friday’s action, draft-tracking website Tankathon had Boston set to collect picks No. 14 (via Kings), 18 (via Clippers), and 23 (its own). Ranking teams by total pick value, the Celtics projected to have more 2019 draft capital than, say, the Knicks if they landed the No. 2 pick.

That’s important given the Anthony Davis pursuit that could loom this summer. The team that emerges with the No. 1 pick could dangle that selection — more commonly referred to as “the chance to draft Zion Williamson” — and put themselves in the running for Davis’ services. But the Celtics can make a very intriguing package with both picks and proven young talent.

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Even though the Celtics can’t formally deal for Davis until July 1, the parameters of a deal could be in place with the Pelicans and Boston would simply draft for them with any 2019 picks that are set to be swapped.

The Clippers' pick is lottery protected again next season before morphing into a 2022 second-round pick if not conveyed by 2020. Given the Clippers’ hopes of adding max-contract talent this summer, there’s a strong chance that pick might simply deliver next June in the event the Clippers fade this season.

But if the Clippers pick delivers, and especially if it ultimately is flipped as part of a deal to acquire a talent like Davis, then maybe just maybe the Celtics coughing up a 28-point lead won’t be as bad as it seemed in the moment.

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ESPN panel favors Celtics to land Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving

ESPN panel favors Celtics to land Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving

For the better part of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Boston Celtics have been surrounded by rumors regarding Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. Irving is set to be a free agent after this season while Davis will almost certainly be traded by the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2019 offseason. It's unclear exactly what the future has in store for both players, but both could be in different uniforms next year.

However, a recent ESPN panel predicted where the NBA's superstars would be playing next season. According to the panel, the Celtics are the favorites to land both Davis and Irving.

The Celtics earned 61.1 percent of the panel's vote when looking at Davis' move. The reasoning for this is simple. Davis has to be traded on a one-year deal and the Celtics are one of the few teams in the league that can offer the Pelicans an enticing trade offer for the franchise star. Thanks to their glut of young assets including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and several first-round draft picks, many believe that the team will swing the deal, even if they don't have a guarantee that Davis will re-sign with them in the 2020 offseason.

The Celtics have previously indicated that all options are on the table in trade Davis trade talks. It also helps that Davis has recently stated that the Celtics are on his list, as that will give the team a better chance of signing him to a long-term extension

Meanwhile, the panel's projections of Irving are a bit more split. The Celtics received 52.8 percent of the vote for Irving while the New York Knicks got 30.6 percent. It makes sense that Irving's numbers would be lower than that of Davis, as Irving is a free agent and has no hurdles to dodge when considering signing with another team.

It would stand to reason that if the Celtics do trade for Davis, it would incentive Irving to stay. After all, the two are good friends and the Celtics could sell the duo on the idea of playing for a title together with a strong supporting cast.

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