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Irving’s Defense is Getting the Job Done for Celtics

December 28, 2018
Boston's Kyrie Irving flexes in front of Philadelphia's Jimmy Butler after hitting a 3-pointer in overtime during Tuesday's 121-114 win over the 76ers in Boston. AP PHOTO Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Steve Bulpett

Boston Herald

HOUSTON -- Even as he’s exploded offensively of late, it’s impossible not to notice that Kyrie Irving’s defensive measurables are up nearly across the board. He’s 18th in the NBA in charges drawn (just ahead of Celtic mate Marcus Smart and just behind Aron Baynes), and his 102.8 defensive rating, best of his career, has him ahead of such people as Rajon Rondo.

Before taking on the Rockets on Thursday night, Irving chalked the improvements up to conditioning and maturity -- with the former largely being a product of the latter.

“Just having an understanding about where I am in my career and the importance of doing little things off the court to make sure that I’m at the top of my game on the court. So there’s a lot of sacrifice in that aspect that doesn’t go seen and just making sure that I put a good product out there on the floor with my teammates. That’s really what it comes down to, just being able to do the little things, boxing out. That comes from the things you do off the court to make sure your core is strong, make sure that your legs are there, and just that you can commit to doing that every single game and not just one game. It’s easy for some guys to just do it one game, have 10 rebounds or whatever, 20 rebounds, or however many assists. But to do it the next night, and the next night after that, that right there has just been done before me with a lot of the great players.”

Irving added that he watched “just how hard they’ve played, and I just try to emulate that same thing. It’s not so much about focusing on scoring or my shots, but more how hard can I play to get easy baskets for my teammates or myself.”

On coming to this realization, Irving smiled and said, “Well, it took me eight years. I just think that my priority list is just totally different than it was when I was 19, 20 years old. So, not that I’m that much older, but just the experience that I’ve had being around a lot of great players, great people that have taught me things, just little things to help them be better on the floor and off the floor.”

He’s also paid more attention to the league’s better two-way players.

“Their impact on the game is just seamless,” he said. “Even if they’re not shooting well, they’re able to draw charges, get steals, be able to be in the right defensive positions.

“I wasn’t really trying to have a focus on that as a young player, you know? I was just trying to score a bunch of points and just make All-Star games -- and it’s just like, that crap means nothing. As long as you’re a team, you’re making that impact on the defensive end and offensively, then there should be no excuse for the other guys on the floor not to be able to play at that level. So that’s also part of leadership.”

True enough, if a team’s best player is working hard on the less glamorous aspects of the game, it’s hard for others to shirk their responsibilities.

“We always talk about it,” said Brad Stevens. “If you want to be a great defensive team, all five guys have to be playing at a great level, and (Irving’s) been very good since he’s been here. And I think that ultimately it’s still an adjustment for guys to play within the system, because there’s not a lot of uniqueness in the big picture of things, but there are little things we do that are a little bit unique, and we’re learning how to play better together as the season goes on. But everybody’s effort and energy and attention to detail is really important, and if you’ve got three guys guard and two not, you’re going to get scored on every time in this league. That’s just the way it goes. So it’s good to have everybody engaged and committed to that.”

Baynes sits again

Aron Baynes missed his fourth game after breaking his left hand two minutes into last week’s loss to Phoenix, but he is on this three-game trip that continues in Memphis and San Antonio.

“He said he feels good. He was able to work out for the first time the last couple of days, which I think he needs,” said Stevens. “And, as you can imagine, him being stir crazy, he’s been ready to work out since he got out of the hospital bed.

“So it’s good to have him back around. We need him on the trip, just because of his voice. And I think his leadership and his energy and everything else, whether he plays or not, is really infectious to our team.”

Extra strategy

Stevens was asked about his strategy in overtime games, with the Celtics moving to 4-0 in such extra inning affairs with the Christmas win over Philadelphia.

“Well, first of all, we don’t want to be in overtimes, although it’s better than losing,” the coach said.

When a reporter injected a thank you to the desire to avoid longer games, Stevens said, “Yeah, it’s not good for deadlines or anything like that -- especially on Christmas Day.

“But I do think, as you’re getting ready to play a game, you prepare for the end and you prepare for what you think might work. Sometimes you’re wrong; sometimes it looks better than it is just because guys make plays. But you put a lot of time into trying to prepare for those moments, for sure.”

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