Kyrie Irving: 'There’s nothing like' playoff basketball in Boston

Kyrie Irving: 'There’s nothing like' playoff basketball in Boston

BOSTON — Back in February, after an embarrassing loss in Chicago, Kyrie Irving suggested the Celtics would be just fine in the playoffs. Asked for a reason, he replied, “Because I’m here.”

It seemed potentially overconfident in the moment but nights like Wednesday's Game 2 victory over the Indiana Pacers suggest, maybe just maybe, Irving was on to something.

Irving scored a game-high 37 points while connecting on 15 of 26 shots in Boston’s 99-91 triumph at TD Garden. The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 as it shifts to Indiana for Game 3 Friday and Game 4 Sunday. 

Maybe the most astounding part of Irving’s night: He attempted only two free throws (limiting his “MVP!” chants to one session). Irving connected on six of the 10 3-pointers he hoisted overall.

It was a dazzling offensive display replete with some big-time shot-making. While the Celtics needed multiple players on their roster to step up during Wednesday’s rally from a fourth-quarter, double-digit deficit — and Terry Rozier provided a big boost, particularly early in the fourth quarter while Irving got a breather — Irving repeatedly came up with must-have baskets in a game where Irving accounted for 37.5 percent of his team’s total field goals.

Irving is no stranger to big games in Boston, alas most in the playoffs came as a member of the Cavaliers. So what's it like now, a year after missing the postseason due to a pair of knee surgeries, for Irving to be starring in a Celtics uniform?

“It’s pretty peaceful,” said Irving. "I’m just happy to be able to be part of a lineage of great players that have put on some unbelievable performances here in the TD as well as in the old Garden. 

"It’s really special to know that the fans here, they’re rooting us on and they want everything to be perfect. It’s just not the reality of the game, but we do our best to go out there and really lay it all out on the line. We throw ourselves into the game and we hope for some great results. So we’ve just gotta have some just honest resolve. But it felt good to be here in this position, playing in this arena.”

While Irving’s mood this season has often hinged on the play of the team, it’s clear he’s enjoying the early stages of Boston’s postseason stay. For all the frustrations of the regular season, Irving’s wait-for-the-playoffs proclamation looks a bit prescient at the moment.

"It’s just been a long journey, having those two knee surgeries and watching the team last year,” said Irving. "And finally getting a chance to lace ‘em up for the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs, there’s nothing like it.”

When Irving is cooking like he was on Wednesday night, his teammates know to feed the hot hand.

"Just sit back and watch,” said Jaylen Brown. "Kyrie has the ability to take over games, that’s what makes him special.”

As backup point guard Terry Rozier noted, Boston’s game plan was pretty simple with Irving clicking. Said Rozier: “We let Kyrie be Kyrie.”

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Evan Turner played a key role in selling Enes Kanter on Celtics

Evan Turner played a key role in selling Enes Kanter on Celtics

Danny Ainge himself admitted Enes Kanter probably could have made more money elsewhere.

So, why did the veteran big man choose the Boston Celtics in free agency? You can thank Evan Turner in part.

As Kanter considered the C's as a free-agent destination, Ainge suggested he reach out to Turner, his teammate on the Portland Trail Blazers for part of the 2019 season and former Celtic who spent two seasons in Boston from 2014 to 2016.

Turns out that was a good suggestion, as Turner gave Kanter a five-star review of the C's.

"He told me how amazing and friendly the front office was," Kanter said Wednesday at his introductory press conference at the Auerbach Center. "He told me it’s like a family. From the moment that you step on that court, they’re going to love you, treat you like family."

Turner also sold Kanter on the basketball side of Boston, and with good reason: The veteran wing parlayed two solid seasons under Celtics head coach Brad Stevens into a four-year, $70 million contract with the Blazers.

"(Turner) told me how much he trusts in Brad," Kanter said. "All he kept saying is how much he trusts in him.

" ... He told me amazing things about the organization, about the fan base, about the coaching staff and everything. So, it’s pretty awesome."

Combine Kanter's trust in Turner (one of his close friends in Boston) with a separate phone call from fellow recruit Kemba Walker and a good first impression from the Celtics' ownership, and the 27-year-old big man was convinced to sign in Boston -- where he fittingly took Turner's former No. 11 jersey.

"I just met all the owners today,” Kanter added. "I’ve never seen anything like this before. They actually come talk to you, and that just shows so much respect. They’re having a conversation with you. That's something that’s very special."

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Will Kemba Walker-Boston Celtics union have Happily Ever After ending?

Will Kemba Walker-Boston Celtics union have Happily Ever After ending?

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker is all smiles right now. So is Danny Ainge, and Brad Stevens, and Wyc Grousbeck and … pretty much everyone associated with the Boston Celtics right now. 

But if you hit the rewind button to a couple years ago, there was a similar vibe of optimism surrounding the program as we all sat and watched Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward trotted out before the media in what many thought would be the perfect marriage. 

No need to dwell on Hayward’s injury anymore than we have, or Irving’s decision to leave Boston for Brooklyn this summer. 

For a myriad of reasons, things didn't work out.

And while the positive, upbeat vibe we have now is very similar, there’s a strong sense that this Walker-to-Boston marriage has a better shot at a Happily Ever After ending. 

That’s because Walker, more than anything else, is wired very differently than Irving. 

While he led UConn to a national title as a senior in 2011, Walker didn’t come into the NBA with nearly as much fanfare or expectations as Irving, who was the top overall pick in the 2011 draft — eight spots ahead of Walker after having played just 11 games at Duke. 

And it is that perpetual chip on his shoulder that never goes away, constantly drives Walker to prove his naysayers wrong and for the Celtics, provides them the kind of leadership that at this point in time their talented but fragile roster desperately needs. 

I asked Walker during his introductory press conference on Wednesday to describe his brand of leadership.

While initially indicating that it all depends on the situation, Walker soon added, “I’m not a rah-rah kind of guy. If I have something to say, I’m gonna say it. I feel like if I’m doing something, if I’m working hard,I feel like that’s how guys have to be. Chemistry is important. A team has to be together. That’s one thing throughout my career, I try to do team activities, small things like that.” 

And it is the small things that Walker knows all too well add up to success, the kind of success that has eluded him for most of his NBA career. 

Of the 14 lottery picks from Walker’s 2011 draft class, he is one of nine that have been in the NBA for each of the past eight seasons. 

But only one of those nine has yet to ever make it out of the first round of the playoffs — that would be Walker. 

So for Walker, coming to Boston is about more than just playing for a team where he’ll be the face of the franchise for years to come. 

It’s about exorcising some basketball demons that have haunted him for most of his professional basketball career. 

That’s why as much as the Celtics need Walker to be that difference-making, high-impact scorer we saw named to the All-NBA Third team last season, he needs the Celtics just as much to finally get over that playoff hump that more than anything else, has kept him on the outside looking in on those conversations that center around the best guards in the NBA. 

Because talent-wise, Walker is right up there with the best of them. 

But the wins haven’t been there, something he seems poised to change now that he’s a Celtic. 

For someone who has suffered as many losses as he has through the years, this change of scenery to Boston from Charlotte may be exactly what Walker needs to keep on smiling. 


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