Chicago Bulls

Is there such a thing as too much Kyrie Irving?

Is there such a thing as too much Kyrie Irving?

BOSTON -- This season began with a level of heightened expectations this Boston Celtics franchise hasn’t had to deal with in nearly a decade.

They were bona fide title contenders from the jump, and a lot of that lofty status had to do with having Kyrie Irving in the fold. 

As the Boston Celtics (37-23) sit in the fifth spot in the East riding a two-game losing streak, there’s still time for them to accomplish most if not all of the goals they set out to do this season. 

But for those dreams to come true, they will need Irving’s talent — particularly in the clutch — to have that everyone-lives-happily-ever-after kind of season. 

But is there such a thing as too much Irving? 

It becomes a relevant topic of discussion in light of what we’ve seen the last two games — both losses — for the Celtics. 

☘️BULLS 126, CELTICS 116

A six-time All-Star, Irving has played 40 or more minutes in back-to-back games in the regular season for the first time as a Celtic.

Both games ended in a defeat. 

Coincidence?

Depends on who you ask.

Coming back from the All-Star break, there’s a certain amount of rust players and coaches have to shake off at first. 

But you also have to factor in who the Celtics were playing in the first game after the break.  

There’s no shame in losing by a single point at Milwaukee which boasts the best record in the NBA, a game that Irving played a major role in helping rally the team back into it. 

But it was Irving’s woeful shooting to start that game (he missed 13 of his first 15 shots, but made seven of his last 12) that put the Celtics in the midst of such an uphill battle most of the night. 

Against Chicago, the Bulls charged ahead by as many as 25 points and spent all but 26 seconds of the fourth quarter leading by double figures, which is when Irving scored 18 of his team-high 37 points to go with 10 rebounds. 

While time, score, opponent and rhythm certainly play a role in how many minutes Irving will play, having him log major minutes has not been a formula for success in Boston or his previous stop in Cleveland. 

With the Cavs, Irving had 55 games in which he played 40 or more minutes.

Cleveland finished with a 28-27 record in such games. 

In Boston, the Celtics’ record in games in which Irving plays 40 or more minutes is 2-4. 

With the Toronto Raptors on the schedule next, no one should be surprised if Irving plays 40 or more minutes for a third straight game on Tuesday considering how talented the Raptors are and how big a deal this game is for both teams. 

As Irving’s playing time rises, it has come at the expense of Terry Rozier, who has played 20 minutes or less in each of Boston’s last two games. 

But the cut in minutes is understandable considering how Rozier has shot the ball the last couple of games (3-for-17 which includes missing nine of his last 10 three-point attempts) with many of the looks being wide open to lightly contested. 

Both Irving and Rozier have opened up recently about the healthy rivalry that has developed between them over time. 

“He’s like a big brother that I want everything that he got,” Rozier said in an interview for NBC Sports Boston’s Post Up show. “It’s never hating on him or nothing like that, but it’s just I want everything you got. So, I’m going to challenge him every day and he’s going to challenge me.”

That internal competition is becoming more lopsided by the day with Rozier struggling and Irving consistently putting up big numbers and in doing so, getting more and more opportunities to play more minutes. 

But is that a good thing?

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What worked (not much) and didn't work (a lot) in Celtics' loss at Chicago

What worked (not much) and didn't work (a lot) in Celtics' loss at Chicago

It has been one of those predictably unpredictable kinds of seasons for the Boston Celtics who dealt their fans another painfully frustrating defeat in losing 126-116 to the Chicago Bulls. 

Scoring enough points was not the issue. 

Boston came into the game rocking a strong 20-1 record in games in which they scored at least 116 points. 

But scoring can only do so you so much good if you don’t take advantage of your opportunities to score and you have little to no defense to back it up. 

How bad was it?

The Bulls took 88 shots from the field. 

Of those 88 attempts, 54 were uncontested which comes out to 61.4 percent of Chicago’s shot attempts were wide open looks in which they made 55.4 percent of them. 

Meanwhile, 71.7 percent (66 of 92) of the Celtics shot attempts were uncontested but they only converted 42.4 percent of those uncontested shots into made baskets. 

Missing open looks with poor defense is a losing combination most nights. 

☘️BULLS 126, CELTICS 116

Here’s a look at what worked, didn’t work in addition to some of the game’s standout performers:

WHAT WORKED: Coming off a heartbreaking loss at Milwaukee, the Celtics came out playing exactly how you thought they would. They were more aggressive, assertive team as they swung the ball around until they got a great shot instead of settling for a good one. That lasted for all of about five minutes. The biggest benefactor early on was Jayson Tatum who scored Boston’s first seven points in just 77 seconds of play. He would only tally five more points in the next 30-plus minutes of playing time he saw.  

WHAT DIDN’T WORK: Take away the first five minutes of the game, and the Celtics didn’t look anything like a team that wants to play its way into a higher playoff seeding. When you look at the categories that are often associated with effort such as rebounding, second-chance points and fast-break points, the Bulls dominated the Celtics to the point where at least one player Marcus Smart raised concerns to reporters in Chicago as to whether the team still had the will to win. 

KEY PLAY: With Boston ahead 33-28 to start the second quarter, Cristiano Felicio scored on a lay-up that made it a one-possession game. Felicio’s basket set into motion a 10-0 Bulls run that set the table for their convincing win. 

SUPER STUD: While Lauri Markkanen (career-high 35 points, 15 rebounds) certainly put in a noteworthy performance, it was Zach LaVine who really stole the show. He would tally a career-high 42 points on 17-for-29 shooting. What made LaVine’s scoring night just a tad more impressive than Markkanen’s performance, was how LaVine consistently created one open shot attempt after another against a Celtics defense that ranks among the league’s best.  For the game, LaVine was 17-for-29 shooting. According to Second Spectrum analytics, LaVine was 14-for-23 from the field on uncontested shot attempts. To create that many open looks against a team like the Celtics defensively, is indeed an impressive performance. 

SUPER SUB: For this category, you have to give it to the entire Chicago bench which thoroughly outplayed their Boston counterparts. And it wasn’t just one Bulls backup getting it done, either. Ryan Arcidiacono (eight points, four assists) did a good job of running the second unit, with strong contributions coming in from Felicio (six points, seven rebounds), Wayne Selden (nine points, six rebounds, two assists) and Shaquille Harrison who only had two points but was an impressive +26 in the 19 minutes of court time he saw against Boston. 

SUPER DUD: You can go in a lot of different directions with this one, but I’m going to go with Terry Rozier. We have seen him struggle shooting the ball, which was the case on Saturday when he missed eight of his nine shot attempts to finish with just three points. But more disappointing was Rozier’s overall impact when he was on the floor. He had a team-worst plus/minus of -16 for the game, not to mention a net rating of -52.2 which was also the worst among the Celtics players. 

WHAT’S NEXT: The road only gets rougher for the Celtics as they close out their three-game road trip after the All-Star break, on Tuesday against Toronto which comes in riding a seven-game winning streak. 

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How much do Celtics miss Aron Baynes? Quite a bit, these stats show

How much do Celtics miss Aron Baynes? Quite a bit, these stats show

The Boston Celtics suffered their worst loss of the season Saturday night with a 126-116 defeat in Chicago to the Bulls. Chicago is one of the NBA's worst teams with a 16-44 record, and it also was playing in the second game of a back-to-back.

It didn't matter, however, as the Celtics were outscored 36-18 in the second quarter and allowed Bulls guard Zach LaVine and forward Lauri Markkanen to score a combined 77 (!) points overall. 

Boston's defense struggled throughout the night, making it painstakingly obvious this team misses veteran center Aron Baynes, who's currently out of the lineup with a left foot contusion. He provides valuable defense (especially at the rim), leadership and a threat to shoot from the outside. He also is physically strong enough to defend the league's top centers, such as Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, 1-on-1 without constant double teams. 

The difference in the Celtics' stats with and without Baynes are striking. Sean Grande of 98.5 The Sports Hub illustrated that point with a few interesting stats in the tweet below.

 

In addition to Baynes' current foot problem, he also suffered a broken bone in his left hand in December.

There is no set date for his return to game action, and the Celtics need him back as soon as possible. They are 4-4 since Baynes went out with his foot contusion, and Boston has several tough matchups coming up on its schedule over the next two weeks, including games against the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors.

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