BOSTON – This is the time Kyrie Irving has pointed to all season as all that matters for the Celtics. Asked about exciting wins, tough defeats, and the incremental gains and losses of an 82-game grind, Irving has consistently shrugged, dismissed the question, and declared it’s the playoffs that truly count.
Well, now he’s here. The present – and still perhaps future – face of the franchise is in his lair. Irving is in the place where he’s been at his greatest during his eight-year career. He’s in the place he sorely missed being last year when knee surgery cut short his first season in Boston. He’s is in the place he’s chosen as his defining proving ground.
Now, it’s on Irving to do his proving.
He has the chance to prove everyone wrong who meticulously picked apart the meaning behind every gesture, side comment, short answer and reported wandering eye toward other franchises coast to coast after he pledged his heart to Celtics season ticket holders in preseason. He has the chance to prove that all the missteps that went into a soap opera season were just the “sensationalism” he dismissed them as following Wednesday’s practice at Auerbach Center.
Irving has the chance to prove that not only can he rise to the occasion when the lights are at their brightest and pressure at its highest yet again, but that he is the type of player and leader who can get everyone else on his team to do the same along with him.
He has a chance to prove it to everyone. And most of all, as it turns out, he has a chance to prove it to himself.
“A lot of bullshit,” he summed up of the 49-33 regular season ahead of this weekend’s playoff opener against the Indiana Pacers. “A lot of just up and downs that just could have been handled better from a professional standpoint, personally. I’m talking about me personally, I’m not talking about our team. I had a lot of questions, a lot of just things that weren’t being answered straight up about what it takes to be a great professional in this league.”
The “I had a lot of questions” statement stood out. So right before public relations called timeout on the six-minute media session, it made sense to clarify that Irving meant that he had a lot of questions about himself, right?
“I would say just goals that I had, questions of what I was capable of doing,” he answered in an apparent affirmation. “I’ve always had the answers and have just looked in the wrong places. I think that, for my career, what has been the biggest mistake since I came into this has been to try to get validation for stats, or other things, that really don’t have validation in my life. And allowing all this to bother me.”
Why it has always bothered him has been part of the Irving mystery. Most media was taken aback on the eve of training camp when he revealed he had not been happy his first year in Boston – even before the knee surgery – despite having the best statistical season he’d ever had and being publicly affable most of the year. Many saw his “If you’ll have me” moment on season-ticket night as a sign he had found his true smile in the place where he soon told his father in a commercial that he never wanted anyone to wear their family No. 11 again.
But each time Irving has appeared content, or committed to a long-term future in Boston, there’s come a contradiction. The Irving we’d all started to get comfortable in knowing has gone out of his way to inform everyone that they don’t really know him at all.
The one thing, as it turns out, that is known best about Irving is something he does on the court. And that one thing is being as good in the playoffs as perhaps any player of his generation. Now Irving gets the chance to do that thing once more in Boston.
It’s the thing he’s been talking about all season as he’s dragged himself through the doldrums of a Saturday night in Charlotte, or another pointless media scrum. He gets to play games at what he calls “the highest level” and where “everything is about the true essence of basketball.”
Irving has declared all year that, in the end, is all that really matters.
So now it’s playoff time. It’s Kyrie Irving’s time.
The judgement day he has coveted in Boston has arrived.
The results are his to own.
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