The worst statistical game Kyrie Irving ever had as a Celtic was back in November 2017 of last season. It was in the middle of the 16-game winning streak when Irving got inadvertently hit by an Aron Baynes’ elbow less than two minutes into a game against the Hornets. He’d finish with zeroes across the box score vs. Charlotte and would play the next two weeks with a mask.
A year later, Irving had his second worst game in green, logging 23 minutes, hitting just one of his five shot attempts, pulling down seven rebounds, and dishing out five assists in a wire-to-wire blowout of the Detroit Pistons. Kyrie has looked good in flashes this season, but it’s clear that he’s still working himself back into rhythm and shape while he recovers from knee surgery and an infection that abruptly his first season in Boston last year. Against bigger and younger defenders like Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock, he still looked rusty, coughing up a pair of turnovers and losing his handle on a few possessions.
But even on a bad shooting night, you can see how Kyrie’s skill set and natural instinct to get in the line is helping this team get out of its early season rut. Right now, he’s not getting to the restricted area and finishing around the rim with that array of flip shots and spinners off the backboard, but he’s still penetrating, getting deep, and forcing defenses to collapse around him. That’s helped the Celtics get open three pointers over this three-game road trip.
I love how you can hear Brad Stevens recognize Irving (“There ya go, Kyrie”) for being aggressive and pushing the ball in transition to get Hayward the clean look at an open 3.
It’ll surely take more time for Irving to be 100%, but in terms of his mindset and approach to the game, he seems to be making that transition more smoothly:
After telling Jackie MacMullan that he was sure that this Celtics squad could beat the Warriors in The Finals, he verbally committed to re-sign in Boston a few weeks later. Irving understands that this is a process, not just for this season, but for his future and career. Kyrie will be better. He’ll be Uncle Drew again, dazzling us with his dribble and shot-making around the rim. He’ll close games and be our best option in the clutch. But for now, let’s appreciate what might be the biggest development as he enters his prime: as a leader.