Celtics

Kyrie's strong defensive game overshadowed by brilliant offensive finish

Kyrie's strong defensive game overshadowed by brilliant offensive finish

When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, we knew he would get his hands the ball a lot.

But defensively?

Irving has 22 deflections this season, which not only leads the Celtics (4-2), but ranks third in the league behind Oklahoma City's Paul George (27 deflections) and Indiana's Thaddeus Young (25). Irving is also tied for third in the NBA in loose balls recovered (9).

And while he does gamble at times defensively, it certainly hasn’t significantly hurt his defensive rating this season.

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Irving’s defensive rating is 95.8 which is by far the best it has been since he came into the NBA as the top overall pick in 2011.

Prior to this season, his best defensive rating was 104.5 which came during the 2014-2015 season in Cleveland, his first with LeBron James as a teammate.

Irving is making lots of good reads, seemingly in the right place often at the right time defensively, and the result has been lots of opportunities to disrupt opposing team’s offense.

“I hope those deflections turn into a few more steals so we can start our break,” Irving said. “But, just staying active on the basketball, being able to be at the top of the key as well as impact the ball, off the ball, and understand my defensive pressure can be an aid for us to get timely stops throughout the whole game.”

In Boston’s 96-90 win at Miami on Saturday, Irving was brilliant down the stretch while finishing with a game-high 24 points which included him scoring nine of Boston’s last 10 points.

But lost in his strong performance were three steals and a game-high eight deflections which helped force the usually turnover-low Miami Heat into committing 19 turnovers which Boston converted into 21 points which accounted for 21.9 percent of the Celtics' offense.

Regardless of what Irving does defensively, his offensive game will always be what most people talk about.

But as he continues to grow as a player, as a leader on this Celtics team, the 25-year-old All-Star knows he has to continue to show that he’s more than just an ankle-breaking, finish-at-the-rim scorer who can also knock down the 3-ball if defenses aren't careful.

“When we’re playing against great teams, going against guys that have a lead guard or teams that have a 6-8 point guard, a 6-9 point guard, I’m able to do different things on any given night,” said Irving whose 2.3 steals per game ranks sixth in the NBA this season. “It’s definitely a luxury to have guys that have length on this team that are able to cover up for our mistakes and me able to get my hands on the basketball a few times and turn them into some fast breaks.”

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New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

Marcus Smart is right where he wants to be, a member of the Celtics.

But Smart, 24, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, readily admits that there was a time not that long ago when he wasn’t sure about his future in Boston when negotiations didn't go nearly as smooth as he would have liked.

“At one moment, I didn’t really know what to think,” Smart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “My main focus has been on my mom and my family.”

His mother Camellia Smart was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

“When you go through adversity with something like this in your family, it puts things in perspective and everything else becomes kind of a blur to you,” Smart said.

One thing that is clear has been his Smart's impact on the Celtics.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been among the league’s top on-the-ball defenders for years, showcasing a level of defensive versatility that stands out.

Boston allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions when Smart was on the floor, which ranked among the league's leaders among guards who played 41 or more games.

And while he is often criticized for his shooting struggles (a career 36-percent shooter from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range), Smart still averaged a respectable 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last season primarily as Boston’s first guard off the bench.

Despite a solid season, the free agent marketplace was not kind one to him.

One of the main reasons for that? Smart was a restricted free agent, which meant the Celtics would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

Smart was also hurt by the fact that there were fewer teams with the kind of financial flexibility to put forth an offer sheet that would make the Celtics strongly consider letting him walk.

But even before Smart hit free agency, Danny Ainge and the entire Celtics organization made it absolutely crystal clear that they wanted him back.

And as the free agency period dragged on, the Celtics - at least in their words - never hedged from that position.

In the end, those words were put into action. 

"Keeping Marcus in a Celtics uniform was a top priority, said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "His intensity is unmatched, and the level of toughness that he brings to the team throughout the course of the entire season is second to none."

Smart acknowledged that the process became a bit frustrating at times.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up at,” Smart said.

And while that uncertainty was difficult to deal with, Smart actually looks back upon the experience and describes it as “a fun thing.”

“As frustrating as it is,” Smart added, “not many people in the world can say that they’re in talks to play for an NBA team, to make a dream become a reality. Being able to do things they never imagined they would be able to do. This whole time, even with everything going on, me not knowing where I could end up, it was still fun, exciting for me.”

And those fun, exciting times will continue for the longest-tenured member of the Celtics.

“Boston loves me, I love Boston. Boston wants me to be here, I want to be here,” Smart said. “I am here so, we made it work.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

1:32 - Marcus Smart is back! Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta discuss the 4-year, $52 million deal the guard signed with the Celtics on Thursday and debate whether or not he’s worth the money.

7:36 - According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, the issues between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady haven’t been resolved, but then we have Danny Amendola on Barstool’s “Comeback Szn Podcast” disputing this. Phil Perry, Tom Giles and Michael Holley try to make some sense of it all.

12:49 - After J.D. Martinez said that this Red Sox team is like a family, it has Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta wondering if the club has an identity and what that might be.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE