The Boston Celtics submitted another entry into their surprisingly crowded field for “worst loss of the season” on Saturday night with a double-digit defeat at the hands of a Chicago Bulls team that Boston waxed by 56 points during their last visit here earlier this season. As Kyrie Irving took his place in front of the cameras following Saturday’s head-shaking loss, he was asked where he might slot this particular mess.
“Behind me,” said Irving.
Over the course of a three-minute huddle with reporters in Chicago, Irving offered short, swagger-filled responses in which he acknowledged Boston’s woes but suggested that all will be fine by the time the playoffs arrive. Given his propensity to sometimes pour gasoline on top of combustible losses this season, this might just have been Irving’s best postgame media session of the year.
Irving’s leadership has been under the microscope and he’s admitted missteps. It felt like Saturday’s loss could have been a check-out moment for Irving and his teammates. Instead, he didn’t point fingers, he didn’t hide from the reality of Boston’s struggles, and he offered confidence-filled responses to tough questions about where the Celtics stand after another embarrassing loss.
Irving was asked if he was worried about Boston’s regular-season struggles seeping into the playoffs this year.
“No, it’ll be fine,” said Irving.
When a follow-up came asking why he felt that way, Irving said simply, “Because I’m here.”
You can certainly argue that Irving is being delusional if he believes Boston can simply flip a switch when the playoffs start. The Celtics have slipped three games behind the Indiana Pacers in the race for the No. 3 seed in the East and sit a game back of the No. 4 Philadelphia 76ers. If the season ended today, Boston’s potential path to the NBA Finals would feature starting on the road against Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Toronto — assuming all other top seeds besides Boston won out.
That’s an incredibly daunting path, one that the Celtics created with so many poor losses this season (including at home to the likes of the Knicks, Magic, Suns, Lakers, and Clippers). After Irving missed a game-winner against East-leading Milwaukee on Thursday, Saturday’s game in Chicago was supposed to be a palette-cleanser before a visit to Toronto on Tuesday night.
☘️BULLS 126, CELTICS 116
Irving acknowledged the bumps in Boston’s regular-season road but he didn’t make a bigger deal of the game than he had to. He didn’t pin the loss on Boston’s young players (Jayson Tatum started fast and went quiet; Terry Rozier had a mind-numbing net rating of minus-52.2 over 16 minutes), he didn’t suggest that the team isn’t having fun. He didn’t reveal any star players he called for help with leadership.
Irving simply talked with confidence, noting the Celtics has been competitive or beaten some of the top talent in the NBA this season.
“I don’t get frustrated by this stuff any more,” said Irving. "It’s just part of the regular season. In the playoffs, when we plan for a team, prepare for a team, I still don’t see anybody beating us in seven games.”
Irving’s message was not one echoed throughout Boston’s locker room after Saturday’s debacle. Al Horford said the Celtics can’t just fast forward to the playoffs while Marcus Smart felt Boston’s effort level was embarrassing. Brad Stevens pinned much of the blame for the Celtics’ struggles on himself. But it still resonates that Irving, the face of the franchise, is trying to defuse the situation rather than incite it. Irving finished with a team-high 37 points on 14-of-24 shooting to go along with 10 assists.
The Celtics could use more of that from Irving on the court. And they could use more Swagger Kyrie in the locker room, too. As the bad losses pile up, Celtics players need Irving to remind them of what’s possible if this team can ever figure it all out.
That’s what good leaders do.
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