Kyrie Irving defied standards of room needed for most shooters. Then he broke the 30-point threshold early in the fourth quarter. He discarded every defender that the Pacers threw at him and social media wanted receipts.
“Where are the Kyrie haters now?”
Irving’s 37-point, seven-assist, six-rebound, two-block decimation of the Pacers in Game 2 sealed the series. After finishing the sweep on Easter Sunday, the Celtics stand undefeated through four playoff games. The real test lies ahead, against the top-seeded Bucks. But Irving already exceeded his standard of play all year by morphing his style toward what Boston needs. Despite his off-court frustrations, that in turn frustrated fans, he never wavered in his play.
Chemistry issues stunted the growth of this team. Players struggled through taking back-seat roles. Irving tried to settle uncertainty by committing to the team before the season began. On the court, he allowed others to man the ball and emphasized movement to keep everyone involved.
He said that his free-agency decision will be his own. Then the barrage of follow-up questions frustrated him. Unlike Russell Westbrook, he continued to answer them, however short he became through the worst stretches of the season. Tense pressers became the front page of his career season, his first as a positive defensive box plus-minus player.
The Celtics outscored their opponents by 10 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, the highest net rating of his career. He surpassed 40% three-point shooting. Against the Pacers, he split ball time with Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier to deflect Indy’s defensive pressure. Irving held the Pacers to 10-for-33 shooting through Game 3 as a primary defender, mostly on Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans.
The Pacers outscored Boston by over two points per 100 possessions when Irving left the floor in a clean sweep. Indiana won 6-of-16 quarters in the series, tied two more and took Boston possession-for-possession in each game. They didn’t have anybody to replicate Irving.
If he committed any crime this year, he could only be charged with non-commitment. There’s a fair share of that uncertainty around the NBA between Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. The Lakers don’t have that problem with LeBron James. They would certainly trade that security for the year Boston had.
Kendrick Perkins again raised the question of Irving’s future on ESPN. It became a useless topic long ago. Nobody knows how the future will play out, Irving likely does not either. We can only base our assessment of him on how he carried the team to this point.
Irving lost many in front of the microphone. That spawned the “Irving haters.” He talked of flipping the switch, teaching the youth on the team what it takes and his frustration with the media.
That did not mend locker-room wounds. There’s a chance nothing he said could have. Instead, he thrived where it matters, on the court. People frustrated with that aspect of the experience won’t go away. Even if he counteracts a potential MVP and flips Boston back to where expectations started this year, that won’t change him.
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