By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As Kyrie Irving was embracing his role as the leader of the Boston Celtics ahead of the season, many wondered what kind of leader the star point guard would be.
We quickly found that he would be a vocal leader. An extremely vocal leader. That appears to be changing after Irving’s latest verbal thwack on his teammates.
Following Saturday night’s embarrassing loss (we’re losing track of them all this season) in Orlando, Irving went off, lambasting his team for their lack of passion and effort on given nights, pointing to their absence of experience, via Celtics.com:
“We are lacking [experience] and because of that we have a lot of learning to do. So we have a lot of ground to make up in that aspect and it gets tough. It gets hard. You have to think. You have to do the right things. You can’t gamble and think that it is going to be the winning play. You have to be able to play through the whole 48 minutes no matter what is going on and hold your head high when you make mistakes. When your job is called upon, you have to do it to the best of your ability. You have to come in and make an impact from the minutes that you are playing out there. You have to appreciate being out there and just competing. It doesn’t matter who you are going against. It matters the type of preparation you have. What you are going out trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are a lot of things that I don’t think that some my teammates have faced of this every single day. It is not easy to be great.
“So the things that you are doing that you have done your whole entire career of being able to coast by certain situations and gotten away with in your youth and stuff like that, being on a championship ball club, you can’t get away with that. I know from the majority of the fact we are better than most teams in this league. It is just about going out and proving it every single night and demanding it and actually showing it. Until we do that every single night and realize that our depth is a positive, and all the wishes and could haves and should have done this and done that, once that goes out the window then we will be better,” he continued. “Until then we will keep having these ups and downs and these lulls of going against teams on the road and they just know they can take advantage of us down the stretch when this group is in or that group is out. It has to be a cohesion and I have to be better as the leader of the team of doing so and making sure these guys have more experience in certain situations like that. I put it on me of just being better.”
That’s a whole lot of critiquing, and Irving didn’t even go the compliment sandwich route to soften the blow. But it was all pretty fair after the Celtics let a 12-point third quarter lead slip away in Orlando. And Irving was pretty perturbed with Boston’s final play, which saw Gordon Hayward inbound to a heavily guarded Jayson Tatum, who missed a tough turnaround at the buzzer. The 105-103 loss was Boston’s second straight defeat, which has followed their best win of the season last Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers. It’s that kind of inconsistency that is driving everyone involved with the Celtics, whether it be fans or those in the organization, bonkers this season.
Whenever it looks like the Celtics were righting the ship and playing as a team, they go out and make a handful of mental mistakes and get blown out by a bad team. Or they start playing hero ball and a lead slips away, also likely to a bad team. Irving is certainly guilty of the hero ball part, but as the best player on their roster, he’s supposed to play some hero ball when the team needs it. That was his biggest beef at the end of Saturday’s game, that the ball ended up in Tatum’s hands for a low-percentage shot and not his.
But at some point, Irving’s words will only do so much. Eventually, they’ll start to do more harm than good. It appears we’ve hit that point, because Irving said that going forward, he won’t be using the media to call out his teammates.
“Sometimes I may come off and say things; I’ll never question my teammates in public like that again, but I just want to win so bad,” Irving told reporters in Brooklyn on Monday. “I came from a place where I asked for a trade, and coming here I believe in this organization and I want these young guys to be successful. In order to do that, we all have to be on the same page and have that mindset of championship or nothing. That can get the best of me sometimes.”
Irving certainly provides championship clout, having hit one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history. And he’s one of only two players on the roster who own a championship ring (Aron Baynes has one from his time with the Spurs). The Celtics definitely could have used Irving’s big-game abilities last postseason, when their impressive group of youngsters let a very winnable Game 7 slip away to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
And while Irving stepping up as a vocal leader isn’t necessarily a bad thing, he definitely needs to work on how he does it. The defacto leader calling out his teammates, again, with Thursday night’s argument/pushing match between Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown mixed in, paints a pretty dysfunctional picture for the 2018-19 Boston Celtics.
That paint is not dry just yet, and maybe Irving’s harsh words would be the kick in the backside the Celtics have needed all season. But it’s always a good idea to keep such tough love in-house. It appears Irving has caught on.