BOSTON (CBS) — During the broadcast of Game 7 between the Celtics and Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday, broadcaster Mark Jackson offered some sharp criticism of injured Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving for not being present on the bench during the biggest game of the season. Whether it was in offering advice to a younger player like Terry Rozier (who struggled mightily on 2-of-14 shooting), or telling the coaching staff something he might have noticed from his former team, the idea was that Irving could have helped the Celtics in some way.
A day after the loss, Celtics president of basketball operations informed the media that Irving was out of town, recovering from surgery to repair a deviated a septum. It was an injury related to Aron Baynes accidentally elbowing Irving in the face in November, which led to Irving wearing a mask for a stretch of the season.
On Thursday, Ainge joined Toucher & Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and the matter of Irving’s absence was discussed for a good four minutes. Ainge suggested that there was not much Irving could have really done to help the team in Game 7, and that the absence was more than understandable.
“Listen, I don’t think it’s a big deal at all, personally,” Ainge said. “I think that’s a little bit blown out of proportion.”
Ainge explained further: “Kyrie was in contact with us and in contact with coaches and in contact with players. We had all of Cleveland’s scouting reports, and he gave us all the information. He was in constant contact with us, except there for a couple of days while he had the surgery and was recovering. … But he was with Terry and communicating with Terry all along, and having him sit on the bench to calm Terry’s nerves? I don’t know. Our coaches, by Game 7, you know every single play that [the Cavaliers are] running, every play they ran the whole year. I’m just not sure how much of a benefit [Kyrie attending Game 7 would be]. Anyway, it’s a fair criticism, but I think it’s probably blown out of proportion.”
Ainge was asked if, as a player, he would have been there in the same situation.
“It’s a tough call because if I’m Kyrie, I mean, Kyrie is dying to not be playing. And he just wants to make sure that he gets out, and what he’s been through with the surgeries that he’s needed, I don’t know. I mean, I think that taking care of the person and the team, sometimes there are conflicts,” Ainge said. “I know he just wants to get back out on the court and play. He’s dying [to play]. Like I said he had the antibiotics, the drip in the arm for a while and he couldn’t do anything, and now the septum with the running of the nose and all that comes from that. It sometimes can be a messy, just annoying stuff. But he’s just trying to do all that he can, and he’s been amazing – him and Gordon [Hayward] both have been unbelievable at trying to get themselves ready for next year.”
With that situation settled, Ainge was asked about another leftover moment from Game 7, involving Marcus Smart indicating to a reporter that he’s worth more than $12-14 million per year just moments after the season ended. Ainge downplayed that matter, as well.
“It doesn’t matter what I think anyway. A lot of players talk about that and they’re free to say whatever they want in those regards and talk about their value publicly,” Ainge said. “Obviously I don’t negotiate with my players in the media, but we need Marcus. Marcus is a good player. He provides a lot of energy for our team and I hope that we can work something out going forward.”
Ainge was once again asked what he would have done as a player in the same position.
“Well I mean I’m just saying, like, I wouldn’t. But a lot of players do,” he said. “So it’s his prerogative. … He’s got a million cameras in front of him, a bunch of mics in front of him. It’s not like he was coming out and saying, ‘Hey I need this.’ Someone was asking that question and persisting on, ‘Well what do you think you’re worth?’ And he just answered it in his honest opinion. I don’t think that’s what he was trying to accomplish in his meeting with the press. It was just a question that was asked, and he answered it.”
And of course, with the bizarre Bryan Colangelo story dominating the NBA discussion this week, Ainge was asked the question that had to be asked: Was he actually operating the Twitter account with the cult following known only as “@isjanosnba“???
“I didn’t even know what a Twitter burner account was until a couple of days ago,” Ainge said. “I like that [people think I’m running the Janos account], actually. That’s a huge compliment. Well that’s my secret whiskey drinking account. I can pretend to be a whiskey drinker and eat a lot of soup. And to have an unemployed son. He’s who I’ve always wanted to be.”
On a more serious note, Ainge advocated some patience from everybody before automatically declaring Colangelo guilty of all that he’s been accused of.
“I’m going to reserve judgment there. I hate how as a society that we just jump to conclusions that people are guilty,” Ainge aid. “I’ve known him for a lot of years. He was my general manager when I was coaching in Phoenix with the Phoenix Suns, and I got along great with Bryan and his father Jerry. So I’m just going to stay away from that one right now, and I hope that it’s not true.”