By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A common question for Kyrie Irving following each of his first seven games with the Boston Celtics has had to do with his comfort level with the new team.
The star point guard escaped the shadow of LeBron James over the summer to come to a completely revamped Celtics team, one with only four players returning from last year’s squad. There is usually a transition period when a star player finds a new home, and with 11 new players on the team — seven of whom had never played in an NBA game — it was going to hit the entire roster from both an individual and team standpoint.
Anything the Celtics thought they knew about themselves was thrown out the window when Gordon Hayward went down just five minutes into the season, and the team struggled in their first three games. Irving himself looked a little out of sorts at times, highlighted by a vulgar halftime exchange with a fan in Philadelphia. The Celtics won that game for their first victory of the season, but Irving still looked a bit off.
Irving has returned to his All-Star form and then some over the last four games, smoothing out whatever led to the bumpy start to his Boston career. He’s made it look effortless at times with his offense as flashy as ever, whether it be his hesitation drives to the basket fooling defenders, his silky smooth jumper from just about anywhere on the floor or some phenomenal feeds to teammates. Irving led the way for Boston with 24 points in Monday night’s 108-94 win over the San Antonio Spurs, the team’s fifth straight victory. He needed just 30 minutes to reach that point total for the third straight game, finishing the night 10-for-16 from the floor before taking a seat on the bench for good two minutes into the fourth quarter of a rare Celtics win over the Spurs.
Irving also dished out a game-high six assists and snagged a trio of steals in the W. So, yeah, he’s feeling pretty comfortable with his new team, making questions about his comfort a little stale.
“As long as we’re going out there and are playing at a high level, honestly, we’ll see some good things. Sometimes it’s going to look pretty and sometimes it’s going to look ugly. But that’s just the flow of the game and we have to withstand other teams runs and stick to our game plan. We’ve been doing that the last few games and we have to continue that,” he told reporters in the Celtics locker room on Monday.
What’s most impressive about Irving’s current stretch is that he’s not just doing it on the offensive end, but also performing well on defense. Like most of the NBA’s most gifted scorers, Irving has never been known for his defensive prowess. But he’s making life tough on opposing guards, racking up two or more steals in six of seven games. He leads the team with 2.4 swipes per game, double his average from last season, earning him praise from head coach Brad Stevens.
Irving’s younger teammates, especially the ones who carry a defensive pedigree, are eager to catch up.
“He’s leading our teams in steals right now and I’m kind of upset about that because he has bragging rights,” joked third-year guard Terry Rozier.
The Celtics are the top-ranked team in the NBA in terms of defensive rating through the first seven games, which is simply incredible.
Irving’s transition looks to be in its final stages, as he’s adjusted to life with his new teammates, in a new city, and as the face of a historic NBA franchise in just a few weeks. His merry men are following suit, too. Rozier said after Monday’s win that it took the rest of the roster time to adapt to their new leader and star, a statement Irving got a kick out of because he felt the same way about all of his new teammates.
“Terry is a funny guy, I’ll tell you that,” said Irving. “On the flip side, I felt like I had to adjust to them. Coming in and even just playing pickup with those guys in the beginning, they have a team-oriented — at all times — vibe and culture here, and I had to adjust my individual talents to the greater good of the group. I feel like that has been going a lot better than even I expected because of the guys we have in this locker room. They make it easier for me to adjust myself.
“Every game is a chance for us to continue to get better and depend on each other. We’re doing a great job at that,” he said. “I admire these guys talents. … It took me a few weeks to adjust and I’m still adjusting, but they make it easy.”
Stevens said following Monday’s win that it’s clear that Irving is getting more comfortable by the day. There were rough patches to start and there will be more in the future, but Irving is showing everyone that he’s more than capable of being the top dog on one of the league’s best teams.
How quickly these new Celtics jelled, and how fast Irving has taken hold of his role as leader on this young team, is nothing short of impressive.