Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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- Stein on LeBron’s free agency: ‘Don’t write off Cavaliers’ - January 19, 2018
Since joining the Boston Celtics on Aug. 22 after a blockbuster trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving has maintained a team-first narrative.
And, to his credit, he continues to back it up.
In games against his former teammates, the Cavaliers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, on Wednesday and Friday nights, Irving didn’t fill up the stat sheet by putting up gaudy numbers that became a trademark for him during his days in Cleveland.
In a 91-84 victory against Minnesota, Irving managed 16 points on a 6-of-16 shooting performance. In the 102-88 triumph against his former team, Irving accounted for but 11 points on a 5-of-14 effort from the floor.
His generic stat line not withstanding, the most important thing for Irving came to fruition — his team won.
With the pair of impressive victories, Irving & Co. now stand at 32-10, 2.5 games ahead of surprising Toronto and 5.0 games of the team he left behind in Cleveland. Boston has won five consecutive games and six of its last seven.
Irving admits, though, getting to the point of accepting less-than-stellar individual performances was a process.
“As a young player, I used to get stuck in one game and think that this was going to be the end all, be all,” the 25-year-old told reporters postgame Friday night. “If I don’t shoot well tonight then I don’t know if I’m going to make it until tomorrow, man.
“And that’s just how maniacal I am about the game. But now, it’s really about the big picture. As long as you can affect the game on the defensive end, offensive end, and put your team in a great position to win, that’s the only thing that really matters.
“All the other stats and everything, you can try to make important — you can — but it’ll deviate you. I’ve been there.”
While Irving’s 24.4 points-per-game average is down from his career-best 25.2 he posted last season as a Cavalier, Irving is playing almost three minutes less a game this season (32.4) for coach Brad Stevens than he did a year ago in Cleveland (35.1) for coach Tyronn Lue.
And he appears to be developing more of a complete floor game this season. Friday night, for example, Irving added nine rebounds and eight assists to his 16-point performance, approaching a triple-double.
In his six seasons as a Cavalier, Irving had one triple-double.
Irving has spoken many times hits season on the differences of his roles from his final season in Cleveland and his initial one in Beantown.
“Man, when I actually kind of had a chance to slow down and realize that patience was going to get me through these long NBA seasons,” he said after the win Friday night. “I can’t necessarily pinpoint a specific point, but for me this season has been a learning experience to be able to do that.
“The expectations that were brought forth on this season, that were brought forth on myself, expectations that I had, if I didn’t have that patience, then I probably would have lost it.”
He said his newfound approach is here to stay.
“And I can’t lose it. And I refuse to, I’m just too strong internally and mentally to do that,” Irving said. “And then the talent on the court will do itself, as long as I put the work in every single day. So there are a lot of aspects of the game of basketball that are considered and are not considered, they are individually kind of figured out at that time, and I’m just on my journey. That being said, it just took some time to figure it out.”
Irving said change was inevitable.
“It was going to be a different role anyway that I was going to have to figure out,” he said. “I definitely probably have a little more, I don’t want to say wiggle room, but throughout the game, you’re just able to kind of manage it a little better in the role that I’m presented here.