Marcus Smart explains why Kyrie Irving is one of his five toughest players to guard

Marcus Smart explains why Kyrie Irving is one of his five toughest players to guard

Kyrie Irving may have contributed to the Boston Celtics' chemistry problem last season and rubbed a lot fans the wrong way.

But make no mistake: The dude can ball.

Take it from Celtics guard Marcus Smart, one of the NBA's top defenders who's making an early case for Defensive Player of the Year.

In an article for The Players' Tribune on Tuesday, Smart listed the five toughest players he's ever guarded -- and Irving was one of them.

According to Smart, what sets Irving apart is his ability to "ad-lib and come up with things on the fly."

"I like to call Kyrie’s moves 'last-minute moves,' " Smart wrote. "As a defender, you’re running through Kyrie’s arsenal in your mind, narrowing down what you’ve seen him do and what he might pull out at that moment.

" ... Then literally at the last second, he hits you with something you weren’t expecting. And you’re like, Dang … how did he even think of that?"

Irving can pull off those moves, Smart wrote, thanks to his incredible ball-handling skills -- "He’s got the ball on a string" -- and body control -- "with his ability to dip his hips, switch up the pace and change direction in an instant, he can get to any spot on the floor.

So, how would Smart try to contain his former teammate? By staying home.

"You can’t fall for all the shakes," Smart wrote. "He’s gonna throw a lot of moves at you and pick his spots. So you gotta stay on your toes. Stay disciplined. And be ready for anything."

Unfortunately, Smart won't get the chance to employ this strategy Wednesday: Irving won't travel to Boston for the Brooklyn Nets' game against the Celtics due to an apparent shoulder injury.

Smart's full article is worth a read, as he actually lists a total of six players on his tough-to-guard list: Irving, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry and Los Angeles Clippers teammates Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Get ready for Celtics-Nets Wednesday night with Celtics Pregame Live at 6 p.m., then check in with Halftime Live and wrap it up after the game with Celtics Postgame Live, all on NBC Sports Boston or stream them here through the MyTeams App.

It's a matter of when, not if, Jaylen Brown will be an NBA All-Star

It's a matter of when, not if, Jaylen Brown will be an NBA All-Star

BOSTON -- We should have seen this coming from Jaylen Brown. 

It’s not like he didn’t clue us in to how he was built differently than most players coming into the NBA. 

His first NBA start came against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game in which Brown showed absolutely no nerves, anxiety or fear of James as he went on to score a then-career-high 19 points in what was his fifth game as a pro. 

From there, Brown continued to show flashes of being an above-average talent, displaying an innate ability to successfully transition to whatever role he’s cast to play. 

With the NBA season at a standstill now, it provides us an opportunity to take in what Brown has done thus far. 

More significantly, it allows us to take inventory on what Brown’s body of work thus far tells us is on the horizon. 

The 23-year-old Brown is on course to establish himself as an All-Star whose strength lies in his versatility to impact the game at both ends of the floor. 

This season, Brown is averaging 20.3 points per game, joining teammates Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker as part of the only trio of NBA teammates this season with each averaging at least 20 points per game. 

Of that threesome, Brown’s inclusion is the most surprising when you consider it wasn’t a given that he would start, let alone drop 20 points a night, at the start of the season. 

A legit case could be made that Brown should have been an All-Star this season, with some surmising a top-two record by the Celtics prior to the break would have been enough to get him in along with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. 

But it’s fitting that Brown’s time to shine will have to wait. 

Because on many levels, that’s been the narrative surrounding his NBA career. 

And while it would have certainly deterred some and disappointed others, it only drove Brown to continue working on his game, proving his naysayers wrong - including those who booed Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck when he announced that Boston had selected Brown with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

“Oh, I remember,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston recently. “I definitely remember.”

But instead of dwelling on what has happened, Brown is more locked into what the future holds for both him and the Celtics. 

“Just keep getting better, keep grinding, keep working on all parts of my game,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done, to get where I’m at. So why stop now?”

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Want to witness one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history? Just tune into NBC Sports Boston on Sunday night.

Our "Classic Celtics" series -- which featured Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals on Friday night -- continues Sunday with a throwback: Game 2 of Boston's 1986 NBA playoffs first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

That April 20, 1986, game at TD Garden was a defining moment for then-23-year-old Michael Jordan, who went off for an NBA postseason-record 63 points.

But Celtics fans can appreciate Jordan's masterful performance knowing that Boston outlasted Chicago 135-131 in double overtime and swept the series en route to an eventual NBA title.

The broadcast begins Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, and as an added bonus, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge -- who scored 24 points in this game while defending Jordan -- will join Brian Scalabrine to provide real-time commentary throughout the game.

Other reasons to watch:

- A vintage performance from Celtics star Larry Bird, who scored a team-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

- The 1980s Celtics at their peak: Bird, Ainge, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton all scored double figures.

- Jordan hitting two free throws in the final seconds of regulation to force the first overtime.

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