The Celtics Really Are Better Off Without Kyrie Irving. Yes, Really.
Boston added an All-Star point guard this postseason and only got worse
Following the Celtics’ gutless 113-101 loss in Boston to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Kyrie Irving, who shot 7-of-22 during the defeat and left the floor before the final whistle sounded, was defiant when asked about his play and poor shooting.
“Who cares?” he said.
Irving went on trying to justify his performance. “For me, I had 22 shots, I should’ve shot 30. Really, I’m that great of a shooter.”
As ESPN’s Jalen Rose pointed out afterward, that remark likely would not sit well with Irving’s teammates.
“When you go to the press conference and say, ‘I should’ve taken 30 shots,’ what do you think the other 14 guys in the car going home saying, ‘We can’t wait until this guy gets out of here. We’ll help him pack his bags,’” Rose said.
The irony that Irving just released a Friends-inspired collection with Nike when he likely doesn’t have any left on his own team should be lost on no one. He’s the Mr. Heckles of the Celtics — and it hasn’t been his day, his month or even his year.
Now that the Celtics have been eliminated following their 116-91 loss in Game 5 to the Bucks on Wednesday night, we’ll be able to see if Rose, who also said Irving showed “he can’t be the best player on a contending team” this season, is right and Boston does choose to send the 26-year-old packing as a free agent this summer.
Given Irving’s status and potential, the organization may not. But they should, because while Irving has proven to be a franchise anchor, he’s the variety that drags a team down.
In Irving’s two seasons with the Celtics (2017-18 and 2018-19), he played a total of 127 regular-season games in all, missing 37 due to injury. With Irving in the lineup, the Celtics went 78-49, good for a 61.4 percent winning percentage. That’s not too bad, until you consider how Boston did without the All-Star guard.
Over the last two seasons, the Celtics have gone 26-15 without Irving during the regular season, a 63.4 percent winning percentage. This season in particular, the team was markedly better without Irving and went 12-3 when he was on the bench or away from the team.
And, while the sample size isn’t huge, the Celtics were also better in the playoffs without Irving. With him this postseason, the team went 5-4 and lost in the second round. Without him last postseason while the All-Star point guard was out with an injury, Boston went 11-8 and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
While those numbers give an indication about how having Irving on the floor negatively impacted the Celtics, they don’t paint the full picture about just how much his presence, which should have been a boon for Boston, ultimately has hurt the team.
The postseason before Irving arrived in Boston, the Celtics, led by Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing in five games to LeBron James, Kevin Love and Irving. During that series, the Celtics got a look at the tantalizing talent and potential Irving has on the court, possibly blinding them to the baggage he brings off of it.
Following that season, the Cavs and Celtics made a deal which essentially swapped Thomas, a lottery pick (which turned into Colin Sexton) and ancillary pieces for Irving. At the time, it looked like yet another heist for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.
Now, after two seasons with Irving on the roster, it looks like Danny may have been duped.
Breaking it down, the Celtics are not in a better position now than they were before they made the deal which brought Irving to Boston. In his first season in town, the Celtics won two more games in the ECF … but he didn’t play. In his second, they didn’t even make it that far.
Perhaps more concerning than that, the Celtics now have a roster featuring young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who have had their developments impacted because they were forced to defer to Irving on the court while stroking his ego off of it. Rozier, who started and played well when Irving missed time this season and last, confirmed as much in March.
“It’s easy … when Kyrie is in a great mood, when Kyrie is feeling good, our whole team is feeling good,” Rozier said “When he’s a little upset, angry, whatever it might be — [with the] media, whatever — everybody tends to get uptight and it doesn’t work out for us and I’m talking players, coaches, everything. He’s our leader, our guy, he’s our backbone.”
In the wake of Boston’s early exit from the playoffs, that backbone appears broken. And if the Celtics are smart, they won’t try to fix it.