Celtics

Kyrie Irving details Celtics' chemistry issues in candid interview

Kyrie Irving details Celtics' chemistry issues in candid interview

Say what you want about the Boston Celtics, but at least they're open about their issues.

The Celtics own a respectable 37-21 record at the All-Star break but haven't quite clicked to meet lofty preseason expectations. That's something they've freely admitted: Kyrie Irving said this team lacked experience after a tough loss to the Orlando Magic in January, while Marcus Morris said earlier this month it "hasn't been fun for a long time" in the C's locker room.

Irving was asked about the Celtics' turbulent season to date in a sit-down interview with Rachel Nichols that aired Wednesday morning on ESPN. His comments were candid and eye-opening.

"It's a lot to figure out all in one year," Irving said. "It's been a trying year for us. Because we basically have a bunch of young men in our locker room that feel like they're capable of doing a lot more of what they're doing.

"And that's OK. But there's a maturity that you have to have. There's a professionalism that you have to really showcase every single day. And that's what the great ones do."

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Irving delivered a similar message back in January. But this time, he named names, referencing backup guard Terry Rozier while explaining the effects of Boston's minutes crunch.

"I initially didn't play the minutes I wanted to play. I'm 26 years old heading into my prime. Like why do I have to wait for anybody?" Irving said.

"Terry Rozier -- he played in the playoffs (last season), he did extremely well. Coming back, that's a natural competition that me and him have. Like, it is what it is. No one wants to say it, but I will.

"It's part of their growth. When you have winning in mind, then you've got to do what it takes, but you've got to understand your teammates."

The Celtics' lone All-Star (and pending free agent) insisted his primary focus is on winning, and that any comments he makes are meant to push his teammates to be better.

But Irving apparently also is aware of how players speaking out to the media instead of addressing issues directly can lead to problems.

"A lot of things that are said get into locker rooms," he added. "Media has broken up locker rooms. It's been done before. Where you say something and it's misinterpreted, and instead of addressing it with the person or individual, like human interaction, you read it on your phone.

"You read it on a text, like somebody says, 'Hey, did you see what this person said about you?' and it's your teammate, and you're like, 'Wait, I didn't hear that.'

"And then you hold back, don't say anything to him and then throughout the season, it ends up coming out again. That's not the way life is supposed to go, and it's not the way basketball is supposed to go."

Whether Irving's comments push any buttons in the C's locker room remains to be seen. But Boston faces a tough challenge immediately after the All-Star break, visiting Milwaukee on Thursday night to battle the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks.

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Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Jayson Tatum was in his basketball bag, giving LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle. 

He was scoring in an efficient manner (24 points on 9-for-17 shooting), rebounding the ball (seven rebounds) and making big shots.

And he was doing this on one of the biggest stages of them all: Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

A 3-pointer by Tatum put the Celtics ahead 72-71 with six minutes to play, a shot that capped off a Tatum surge in which he had scored seven of Boston’s last nine points. 

And then … nothing. 

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He took only one shot after that and missed it, going scoreless for the rest of the game.

The Celtics that year were a team that leaned on whoever had the hot hand. 

But on this particular night, they needed help figuring out who that was in the closing minutes — and in hindsight, head coach Brad Stevens should have stepped in and done more to implore his team to get the ball to Tatum in a better position to score. 

However Stevens stuck to what had worked so well for so long with this group: letting this young band of ballers figure out on their own who to lean on when it mattered most, as contributions seemed to come from a new player on a nightly basis.

But on this stage with all that was at stake, they absolutely needed Stevens to implore them to go to Tatum … a lot. 

And now, two years later, the domino effect of that game’s outcome is still felt. 

Brad Stevens has been at the helm for seven years here in Boston and ranks among the franchise’s winningest coaches ever. 

But in that Game 7 in 2018, the Celtics were less than six minutes away from getting to the NBA Finals, which is as close as this franchise has come to winning a title during Stevens' reign. 

When you look at the overall body of work since Stevens arrived in Boston in 2013, there are very few instances in which a decision or non-decision on his part stands out in a bad way. 

But this was one of those times. 

Yes, the Celtics were playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who were both sidelined with injuries. 

And yes, there are undeniable benefits in having so many young players step their game up despite being without a pair of All-Stars in Irving and Hayward. 

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But as we’ve seen here in Boston and throughout the NBA, getting to the NBA Finals is not guaranteed for any team regardless of how much promise they show going forward.

And to be as close as they were at that time, there’s no way to completely move on from that sting of missing out — other than to take that next step and actually reach the Finals. 

You can go through all the missed shots and free throws and blown assignments defensively and find factors that led to Boston coming up short in that game.

But none looms larger than the Celtics' inability to put Tatum in a better position to score the ball in the final minutes. 

While the pain from that loss has in many ways helped Boston’s young core grow, the gains for the Celtics and the Tatum-Brown tandem would have been even greater had that group as they were constructed advanced to the Finals. 

When it comes to players making plays when it counts, of course it’s ultimately on them to deliver. 

But efforts must be made to best position players to come through in the clutch, the one thing in hindsight the Celtics could have done a better job in what was — and still is — the toughest loss for this franchise in the Stevens era.

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

The NBA season may be at a standstill, but that won’t slow NBA teams down from preparing for the upcoming draft that’s currently slated for June 25. 

While this draft is short on star power like this year’s NBA rookie class, which includes Zion Williamson of New Orleans, Ja Morant in Memphis and New York’s R.J. Barrett, all of whom turned in strong first seasons in the NBA, there’s still plenty of talent to pick over in the coming weeks. 

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And the Celtics will get their shot — make that shots, plural — with three first-round picks this year. 

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ possible draft plans as well as those of the rest of the NBA in the latest NBC Sports Boston NBA Mock Draft. 

Click here for the gallery.