Kyrie Irving showing regular season headaches don’t matter

Nick Friar
April 17, 2019 - 11:07 pm

Jayson Tatum may have hit the decisive three-pointer and thrown down on Bojan Bogdanovic in the final minute of the fourth quarter, but there’s no question the Celtics walked out of Game 2 with a win because of Kyrie Irving. From start to finish, he was on another level offensively. In the first half, it looked like he was warming up for a new Uncle Drew video, each shot more high-arcing than the next. He was efficient again in the second half, scoring 19 on top of his 18 in the first.

Irving’s 37-point night — which he characterized as “peaceful” — was a reminder all the drama and frustration from the NBA regular season only means so much when there’s a superstar on the roster. Especially when you look at the offensive output from Irving’s teammates.

The Celtics haven’t had their typical 2018-19 offensive output to start the first round. “It’s playoff time,” as Marcus Morris stated when discussing Boston’s defense in Game 1. But the Pacers haven’t fallen asleep defensively either; particularly Myles Turner, who continues to alter Celtics’ attempts in the paint.

“He was making me miss at the rim and that’s what you want to do as a shot-blocker,” Irving said about Indiana’s big man. “If you can’t get a hand on it, he’s coming over every single time and there were a few plays where I’m getting to the rim and I’m wondering where Myles is coming over. He just makes me miss.”

With both sides placing a premium on defense, it’s a greater challenging for players to perform well offensively night-to-night. Look at Marcus Morris. He scored 20 on 5 of 12 shooting in Game 1. Morris didn’t score in Game 2. He still took plenty of shots (eight) but could not buy a single bucket. A few changes to a game plan can turn a player to mush.

That’s why the Celtics need Irving. Tatum has played well through Games 1 and 2, but he’s not yet capable of drawing an opposing defense’s attention in the same manner as his teammate.

“(Irving) is a hard cover,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “When he’s breaking you down and you’re forced to have to help, he’s finding guys on the perimeter and (in) transition and they’re hurting us with threes. It just starts with just trying to keep him in front, keep the ball in front so that you don’t have to collapse or give as much help and you can stay with the perimeter to guard the three or box out and rebound the ball. But that’s hard when you’re sitting out there on an island by yourself and you’re trying to keep Irving in front of you.”

To no one’s surprise, Irving is where Indiana’s defensive game plan starts. They have yet to slow him down or force him into poor shot attempts. That’s because Kyrie Irving is the type of player who’s at his best when it means the most — making everything else that comes with him worth it.

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