HOUSTON – My plan was to write about Kyrie Irving and how his impact in the regular season differs from what he does in the playoffs.
And as I started to crunch the numbers, it hit me … numbers don’t matter anymore with this dude!
Kyrie Irving is going to score.
We know this.
Hell, even when he’s trying not to get shots to go down the basketball gods are like, ‘What are you doing? We got you!’
No matter who he has played with, no matter where he’s played, Irving has always proven himself as a scorer who can fill the stat sheet in other areas as well.
Points don’t matter now; winning does.
And as we saw from the loss at Houston, Irving is going to have some help – serious help – when it comes to winning in the playoffs.
To look at the season-high 67 points scored by Boston’s bench against the Rockets as a one-off moment would be to ignore what has been brewing ever since this crew returned from the break.
Irving is the ultimate destroyer of defenses.
But what we’re starting to see of late is a second unit that can inflict some serious pain as well.
Marcus Morris is healthy now, and he’s posing major problems for defenses. Big men can’t guard him because of his ability to create space off the dribble. Defenders his size don’t have enough strength to handle his low-post game.
And then there’s Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart who are bringing it more consistently at both ends of floor, than what we saw earlier this season.
Let’s not forget about the high-energy play from Daniel Theis and inside scoring Boston appears to be on the cusp of getting from Greg Monroe who lit up the Rockets for 18 points on Saturday.
And as important as it will be for the Celtics to get a strong playoff performance from Irving, the play of those around him will be even more vital.
Irving is going to draw attention.
He’s going to score points.
And as we’ve seen from him in the past, his numbers have historically been consistent with what he did in the regular season.
But there’s a plot twist with that theory this year.
Irving has been riding shot-gun in the past in Cleveland with LeBron James, compared to now where he’s behind the wheel, the one driving Boston into the postseason.
And that position of power is one that no one knows for sure how Irving will handle.
Will he look to put his imprint on the game more aggressively at the start of games, or will he make a point of getting his teammates involved earlier while planning to carry the team more so down the stretch?
And how will Brad Stevens handle having one or two other guards playing extremely well for the game, but sit for large chunks of the fourth in lieu of Irving?
And if Stevens goes with a Terry Rozier or a Marcus Smart instead of Irving, how will that play out going forward?
These are just some of the scenarios that the Celtics may encounter in the postseason, that no one has a true feel for how any of the participants involved will deal with it.
Here’s a theory based on what I’ve seen, heard and suspect is at the heart of who Irving is as a player.
Irving is going to do whatever Brad Stevens asks him to do.
Up to this point, Irving has been a stable, consistent, engaging leader – qualities that he has never had in any one of the slew of coaches he had in his time with the Cavs.
In his first season as a proven talent leading a talented team, Irving has increased his understanding of how part of becoming a great leader is embracing when to do what’s best for the collective group even if it’s at your own detriment.
We have seen games this season that Boston has won in part because Irving didn’t press to score when other teammates had it going.
I suspect he’ll buy into that approach even more in the playoffs than we’ve seen already.
Because at the end of the day, Irving’s numbers don’t matter.
For him to drop 20 points in a win is a far more impressive feat than 30 or 40 in a loss.
Irving’s talent no longer defines him.
And with the playoffs only a month or so away, the Houston game should serve notice that Irving won’t be alone.
He’s got a posse of ballers with him getting better by the day, that’s itching to join him in the fight.