BOSTON – Kyrie Irving buzzed off his afro and then buzzed straight through the Detroit Pistons’ defense Tuesday night, dropping a season-high 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting to help lead his Boston Celtics to a 108-105 win at TD Garden.
The standout performance begged the question: could the All-Star’s new look, clean-cut possibly have had anything to with his improved shooting and agility on the court?
“Maybe. Maybe,” he pondered during a walk-off interview with NBC Sports Boston when asked if losing the ‘fro allowed him to be sleeker on the floor.
But then, Irving revealed the real reason: “Shout-out to Tommy Heinsohn. Real talk: he got me in shape.”
Say what? How could Celtics Legend Tommy Heinsohn possibly have played a role in getting Irving into better shape?
Well, if you’ve been tuning into the Celtics postgame shows on NBC Sports Boston lately, you may have an idea of what Boston’s All-Star point guard was referring to.
Back on Oct. 20, after the Celtics’ win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Heinsohn pointed out how Irving seemed to be struggling on the offensive end. Never one to beat around the bush, the Hall-of-Famer then gave his take on why this could have been the case.
“I think he’s maybe a little out of shape,” Heinsohn stated, while recognizing that Irving was coming off of offseason knee surgery. “To me, it looks like he’s a little overweight. And to me — his timing, his quickness — he’s maybe an instant slower than he’s been.”
Rather than viewing Heinsohn’s criticism in a negative light, Irving used it as motivation.
“I was on the bike the next morning,” Irving claimed. “I was on the Versaclimb, I was doing everything possible to make sure I prepared my body for what’s to come the rest of the season.”
As for the first two weeks of the season, Irving did not look like his usual self on the offensive end. Through the first six contests, he was averaging 14.0 points per game on shooting clips of 39.1 percent from the floor and 24.1 percent from 3-point range, all of which were well below his career marks.
Irving needed some form of encouragement, and Heinsohn’s comments, which he stumbled across last week, came at just the right time.
“It’s always great when someone challenges you like that, especially with the respect-level that I have for past Celtics Legends,” said Irving. “And for him to really kind of pinpoint, as me being one of the leaders on this team, a main [focal] point of this team, I had to be in better shape as well as challenge myself on both ends of the floor. I think he made it very clear to me.
Irving simply couldn’t get Heinsohn’s remarks out of his head. He wanted to prove that he could shake off the post-surgery rust and return to elite form, so he buckled down and began to work even harder.
“It was bothering me because it was the most honest thing that anyone had said about the way I was playing, because I literally had to try to match a level that I had playing at last year, but also become better. So, how do you do that? I had to really put an emphasis on my body and how I’m taking care of my mind.
“That was one of the realest things that I could have heard. As a competitor, if that doesn’t irk you, itch inside you, to want to be better, especially with a guy like Tommy Heinsohn – you can’t do any wrong in his eyes if you’re a Celtic. You can’t do any wrong. And I appreciate that. And it was the truth.”
By accepting the truth, Irving was able to attack the root of his struggles. He upped his conditioning, got into better shape and let the results do the talking Tuesday night.
For that, he credits Heinsohn, who is certainly deserving of a Tommy Point.