DETROIT — Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving knows his role is a lot different this year.
He isn’t expected to be exclusively an isolation scorer. There will be nights when he isn’t heavily featured within the offense — nights when his stardom shows itself in other ways. Those nights could look a lot like Saturday’s 109-89 victory over the Detroit Pistons, when he scored just three points and went 1-for-7 from the floor.
But Irving helped in other ways. He collapsed the defense and rocketed passes out to shooters on the perimeter. He pushed the pace in transition, even though transition basketball isn’t the style of play that naturally fits his skill set. He pitched in as a team rebounder. He defended hard.
He did a lot of the little things he hasn’t been known for while leaving behind many of the things he’s used to doing, and the Celtics won by 20. That process may be a little challenging for Irving, but he smiled when asked about the result after the game.
“I was talking to a few of my teammates about this, but my quote for this year is just, ‘Be cool,'” Irving said. “I really just have to stay cool. Because if I start bucking and getting back into the old habits of what I’m used to — and the clear realization is that this is not what I’m used to. So going from being a high-PPG scorer and being stat-dominated, and then coming to this type of environment where the best thing for us is to care about the team, and it’s not going to be everyone’s night every single night. But I know when it gets down the stretch, when I’m needed then I’m going to be ready. So that’s just being a professional.”
Irving’s stat line — three points, seven rebounds, five assists — looked so unlike him, he said people close to him have been confused.
“Even with my family, like, everyone’s used to me scoring this amount of points or doing this at a certain standard,” he said. “And so am I. But at the same time the importance is us winning games and getting to the Finals. So that’s where it is.”
The Celtics appear to be taking steps in that direction — Saturday’s game showed flashes of the team they expected to be prior to the season. The ball whipped around the perimeter and carved the Pistons’ defense into strip steaks. The open 3-pointers the Celtics created all season continued to fall, a trend that began in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The defense stifled Blake Griffin, whose first four games prior had painted an MVP picture.
“Everybody was trying to do all the right stuff,” Brad Stevens said. “I thought we again had possessions as a team that we could have done better, but that’s just part of it. We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of depth, and as we continue to grow and get more comfortable, then hopefully we’ll be better.”
For the past six quarters, the Celtics looked like they were having a lot of fun. That’s an encouraging sign.
“It’s great,” Irving said. “Everything else will take care of itself. I truly believe that. It’s easy to go back and be selfish and care about the outside world and what they want you to do, but it’s even harder to learn on a day-to-day basis of how to be a better teammate and a better player. These guys, they look to me for emotional relief. And if I’m out there being distressed then we’re all going to be distressed. So for me I just try to be cool as much as possible and just try to encourage these guys. We have a lot of young, talented players on this team that want to do a lot of things. So it’s always good to have that patience and show them what it looks like to be on a great team.”