By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kyrie Irving looked a little different Tuesday night, and we’re not just talking about the guard’s return to his dominant self.
Irving had struggled through the first two weeks of the season as he knocked off the rust from last season’s knee surgery, averaging just 14 points over Boston’s first six games. He lacked the fire in his offensive attack that makes him one of the most dangerous scorers in the NBA, hitting just 39 percent of his shots from the floor and 24 percent from downtown. Both are well below his career marks of 46 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
He came into the year sporting a new do, a pretty sweet afro that gave him and old school look — especially when pair with his green headband. But the new hairstyle wasn’t working, so Irving figured it was time for a change. The locks were shorn Monday night, and the fresh-looking Irving dominated the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night to the tune of a game-high 31 points in Boston’s 108-105 victory.
“It think it was just time,” Irving said of his haircut after the win. “I had a great run with it. It was a great afro. I’m happy I did it. But now it’s time to get back to what I’m used to.”
What Celtics fans are used to is watching Irving make opponents look foolish. He did just that Tuesday night, hitting 10 of his 16 shots from the field against Detroit. He was lethal from three-point range, hitting four of his seven bids, including a deep triple late in the third quarter to put Boston on top 79-67.
Those were just three of the 13 points Irving poured in during the quarter, matching Detroit’s output for the frame and turning the momentum on Boston’s side. He went three-for-four from deep during the quarter, leading Boston on a 25-13 run. After trailing 58-56 at halftime, the Celtics were up 81-71 heading into the fourth quarter.
Irving broke out his full bag of trick Tuesday night, baffling the Detroit defense all evening. He went behind the back twice to shake a pair of Pistons early in the first quarter, banking an easy layup over Blake Griffin:
And he hit the bank for another transaction late in the fourth quarter, putting a jumper high off the glass to put Boston ahead 98-84 with just over two minutes to go.
It was Irving’s most electric performance of the season, as he also dished out five assists and pulled down five rebounds. Some will point to the haircut, but Irving says the rejuvenated performance spawned from some critical comments from a very unlikely source.
If you wear a Celtics uniform, chances are Tommy Heinsohn is going to sing your praises. The 10-time NBA champion is an unabashed homer when it comes to the Celtics, and that’s putting it lightly. But when Irving got off to his sluggish start, Heinsohn did not hold back and wondered if Irving was out of shape and overweight from his offseason rehab.
Rather than sulk about Heinsohn’s criticism, Irving used it as motivation.
“I was on the bike the next morning,” Irving said. “I was doing everything possible to make sure I prepared my body for what’s to come the rest of the season.
“That was one of the realest things that I could have heard,” he said of Heinsohn’s comments. “As a competitor, if that doesn’t irk you, itch inside you, to want to be better, especially with a guy like Tommy Heinsohn – you can’t do any wrong in his eyes if you’re a Celtic. You can’t do any wrong. And I appreciate that. It was the truth.”
Kyrie Irving is back to looking like his old self, hair and all, and all he needed were a pair of clippers and some tough love from Tommy. Someone should give Heinsohn one of his patented “Tommy Points” for the assist.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens never seemed too worried about his All-Star point guard, even after he scored just three points against the Pistons on Saturday night. He had a feeling Irving was close to breaking out, and now that the floodgates are open, there may be no slowing him down.
“Law of averages, law of averages,” Stevens said of Irving’s up-and-down season. “Which means he’s got more coming.”