We’re still not sure of the specifics behind Kyrie Irving wanting off the Cleveland Cavaliers, since this may have been the least ambiguous answer he provided in his thank you video to Cavs fans, a “very much woke” appearance on “First Take” and his introductory news conference with the Boston Celtics:
“It never came from the fact of me wanting to be absolutely selfish and putting myself first and wanting to be the man. I don’t really have an ego. I have a presence and aura about me that’s very reality-based. It didn’t come in a form of living in this false world and not being able to tell the truth to somebody and look them in the eye and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to be on my own. I’m ready to try out a new situation and be in an environment where I feel like I can be happy.’ My intent was the same and always will be the same — to be around people and to interact them. I love doing that, and to do that through basketball, that’s even better. But to be happy every day I come to work and perfect my craft, oh man, I can’t wait to get the season started.”
Irving’s responses to questions on the subject of asking off a team that featured LeBron James have been as circular as the world is round, but we’ve at least deciphered he wanted to work in a nurturing environment that allowed him to live his truth, perfect his craft and “actually play point guard.” And through 11 games, at least, Irving sure seems to be living his best life with Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Irving enjoyed the best game of his brief Celtics career on Monday, when they needed him most. The C’s were riding an eight-game win streak into Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back, and they spent the first half looking like a tired team struggling to find the drive to stay with a game Hawks squad that was feeling pretty good about themselves after knocking off LeBron’s Cavs on Sunday.
There was the devastating dribbling, of course:
We just watched this Kyrie Irving move 5 times in a row! pic.twitter.com/llQfPHOUkE
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 7, 2017
And that dagger from just above the right arc that we’ve come to know so well:
But there were also some making-something-out-of-nothing assists:
Wasn't the prettiest play… but that pass pic.twitter.com/zuuyDbp70Y
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 7, 2017
Unselfishness in the flow of a real-live offense:
This is the epitome of Erotic City pic.twitter.com/UcwS7cSoW6
— cavsdancheckthisout☭ (@HebertofRiffs) November 7, 2017
And keep an eye on the dribble handoff Al Horford that frees Irving up for that curling dagger:
These are the staples of a Stevens offense and precisely the sort of action that turned Isaiah Thomas into a top-five MVP candidate last season. Irving’s 35-point, seven-assist line in the 110-107 come-from-behind win over the Hawks — including 12 fourth-quarter points and a direct hand in the Celtics’ final 11 points — just might be the start of a similar conversation again in Boston. After all …
Kyrie Irving is the best player on the best team in the NBA so far.
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) November 7, 2017
That’s right. The Celtics own the league’s best record (9-2) and longest active win streak (nine games), with the rival Los Angeles Lakers on tap Wednesday. Their net rating (just under double digits) ranks second behind the Golden State Warriors, and in the most surprising development of an Irving-led team, they allow almost two fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team in the league.
Among regular NBA starters, Irving joins teammates Aron Baynes, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum in the NBA’s top-10 for defensive rating. The Celtics allow 95.5 points per 100 possessions when Irving is on the floor — right around their league-best average — and that number rises when he sits on the bench. The four-time All-Star leads the league in steals, and he’s giving real effort on defense, which he wasn’t known for when the Cavs significantly improved on D without him over the past three years.
This isn’t to say Irving has been perfect on either end. He started slow offensively, seeming impacted by the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward, but he always found bursts of production before fully realizing his flow on Monday. Irving still has lulls of lost interest defensively, but Stevens is quick to get on him every time he slips. There’s an old coaches saying about it being easier to get guys to try on defense when they’re more engaged in the offense, and a similar sentiment seems to be true of Irving, whose defensive effort can flow from his offense coming easier in a motion system this year.
We may be about an eighth of the way through the season, but Boston’s defense looks legit, and it’s hard to imagine Irving won’t get more comfortable as the season goes on. That’s encouraging news for the Celtics, whose ceiling has also been raised by the potential of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
This might be why Irving told Geno Auriemma on the UConn women’s basketball coach’s podcast last week, “Brad fits perfectly in terms of that because he has an intellectual mind and is an intellectual human being. It was something I was unbelievably craving in terms of what I wanted for my career.”
Irving’s “intellectual” comments could be interpreted as a dig at Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, whose team is 4-6 and owners of the league’s worst defense without him. However you decipher any of Irving’s odd remarks, it’s hard not to concede the 25-year-old is living his truth, perfecting his craft and actually playing point guard in a nurturing environment, at least through his first 11 games on the Celtics.
“It’s just a new season,” Irving told reporters in Atlanta. “It’s probably just unexpected, more or less, because of all the input everyone had going into the season, in terms of what they thought this was going to look like. The only thing that really matters is us handling just our preparation, understanding the trust that we continue to build with one another, and the expectations we have within this locker room are reality-based.
“We know what we want to accomplish,” Irving added before answering a question about how his plant-based diet has affected his recent play, “but it starts by not taking any moment for granted and understanding we’ve got to get better in practices and shootarounds, and every moment we have a chance to be with one another and connect matters. Brad always says, ‘There are never really any little things anymore in the grand scheme of things,’ so every moment matters for us to continue to build our foundation and what we want to be going forward.”
If you were wondering if this early Celtics success under Irving is real, there’s your answer, as cryptic as ever. Kudos to NBC Sports Boston for this tagline under another reality-based answer from Irving:
We may suspect LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness was at the root of Irving’s reasoning behind wanting out of Cleveland, but some questions are better left unanswered. We know what we know, and that’s enough for now: Kyrie Irving, very much woke, is living his best life, and Boston is better for it.
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