Wob & Moore: Where Did Things Go Wrong for Kyrie Irving in Boston and What Now?
Photo credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyrie Irving
- The Boston Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs last night after dropping four straight games to the Milwaukee Bucks.
- Kyrie Irving had a disappointing showing in that series and will look ahead to 2019 free agency.
- Matt Moore and Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) take stock of Kyrie's season and where he goes from here.
The Boston Celtics entered the 2018-19 season with high expectations after making the Eastern Conference Finals last year. No LeBron in the East, Kyrie Irving back from injury and another year of development for their young players — the sky was the limit.
Things didn’t work out as planned, with the Celtics dropping four straight games to lose in a gentleman’s sweep to the upstart Milwaukee Bucks. Where did it all go wrong? And what happens to Kyrie Irving now? Matt Moore and Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) are here with answers.
Wob: Where Did It Go Wrong?
When and where did it all go wrong for Kyrie in Boston? Did it even go wrong or are we just prisoners of the moment like usual? Let’s review the highs, the lows and everything in between from the preseason through the funeral in Milwaukee.
1) October 2018, Kyrie announces he plans to re-sign with the Celtics during a preseason event
If you’re a Celtics fan, you’re on top of the world. Superstars NEVER do this — showing your cards almost always comes backs to bite you one way or another because 1) it gives the front office leverage of knowing your plans or 2) things don’t work out as planned and you end up breaking your promise. But Kyrie did it! He’s a Celtic.
“Boston is the place for me!”
THIS IS FINE METER: 10/10
2) November 2018, Jamal Murray drops 48, Kyrie launches ball into crowd
“That was a bullshit move, so your ball goes into the stands.”
Gotta love the passion of Kyrie not letting the Celtics flag get pissed on. It was an immature act, but in regards to him standing with the franchise and his image amongst the fans, this was a W.
THIS IS FINE METER: 10/10
3) November 2018, the verbal subtweets about the team’s young guys begin after Jaylen Brown is ruled out with an injury, Marcus Smart replaces him and the Celtics win eight straight games
“There’s a reason why he’s [Marcus] very instrumental for our team being successful … because he’s a veteran now — not in terms of years, but he’s played high-level basketball for the Celtics for a few years now. So we expect him to be in the right spots and doing the right things.”
4) December 2018, Kyrie goes berserk on Christmas Day
40 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and more And-1 mixtape highlights than you could fit in one episode. Irving absolutely balls out in front of the world on the biggest regular-season stage and justifies every reason for bringing him to Boston.
He’s smiling and laughing. Things are very good.
THIS IS FINE METER: 10/10
5) January 2019, It Begins….
Kyrie and Brad Stevens have a clear disagreement about a play at the end of the Celtics’ game in Orlando — a contest which Boston eventually loses by two.
The falling out then bled into the locker room postgame:
“I mean, we had nothing to lose last year … We had nothing to lose and everybody could play free and do whatever they wanted and nobody had any expectations. What we were supposed to be, at a certain point — we surpassed that. Young guys were supposed to be at a certain point — they surpassed that. We come into this season with expectations and it’s real. Everyone from the coaching staff to the players, it’s very much real every single day, so that’s new. It’s tough. It’s hard.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 8.5/10
6) January 2019, Jaylen Brown strikes back….
After the Celtics’ embarrassing loss to the Brooklyn Nets:
“We’ve just got to have each other’s backs at the end of the day … We can’t make comments, we can’t point fingers, we just have to continue to empower each other and have each other’s backs. If we don’t, if we start pointing fingers, everybody’s going to go into their own little shells. We’ve got to continue to play basketball. It starts from the top to the bottom. Not from the bottom to the top, but the top to the bottom.”
Who could he possibly be talking about?
THIS IS FINE METER: 8/10
7) January 2019, Kyrie apologies to LeBron for being a “naive young player”
First, Irving records a career-high 18 assists in a monster home victory vs. Toronto on ESPN primetime.
And then right when everyone thought the tides had turned….
Now he sees how annoying it is to deal with young guys who think they’re bigger than the franchise cornerstone? Is that how we were supposed to translate this?
“Obviously, this was a big deal for me, because I had to call [LeBron] and tell him I apologized for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything at my threshold … I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and the responsibility of being the best in the world and leading your team is something that is not meant for many people.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 7.5/10
8) February 2019, Kyrie returns to Madison Square Garden
On January 31, the New York Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, freeing up a plethora of salary cap space for the free agency bonanza of 2019. On February 1, Kyrie was back in front of the media to clarify his statement he made to Celtics fans at the preseason season ticket-holder event:
“I’ve spent the last eight years trying to do what everybody else wanted me to do in terms [of] making my decisions and trying to validate through the media, through other personnel, managers, anybody in this business … and I don’t owe anybody shit. Ask me July 1st.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 4/10
9) April 2019, Preparing for War
As the playoffs approach, Kyrie reassures that he and Brad Stevens’ relationship is as healthy as it can get, and as a matter of fact, it’s even grown “tremendously.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 6/10
10) April 2019, The Declaration of Independence
After throwing up an absolute 4-for-18 stinker in Game 2, Kyrie doubles down:
“There’s no extra burden … This is what I signed up for. This is what Boston traded for me for.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 6/10
11) May 2019, Game 3
Kyrie Irving goes 8-for-22 from the field; the Celtics lose.
“It’s really just about being efficient, especially the rest of this series … From this point on I don’t think you’ll see another 8-for-22.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 5/10
9) May 2019, Game 4
Kyrie Irving goes 7-for-22 from the field; the Celtics lose. No, that’s not a joke based on his previous postgame quotes.
“Who cares? … I’m a basketball player. Prepare the right way. Like I said, it’s a little different when your rhythm is challenged every play down. You’re being picked up full court. They’re doing things to test you. The expectations on me are going to be sky high. … I’m trying to do it all. For me, the 22 shots, I should have shot 30. I’m that great of a shooter.”
THIS IS FINE METER: 3/10
9) May 2019, Game 5
Kyrie Irving shoots 6-for-21 from the field; the Celtics are eliminated from the playoffs.
In what will by Kyrie’s final 4 games as Celtic:
25-83 FGs, 5-27 3FGs, 30% & 19% & 4 straight losses.
— nick wright (@getnickwright) May 9, 2019
This is fine.
THIS IS FINE METER: 0/10 — Rob Perez
Moore: Where Is Irving’s Best Fit?
Nothing made sense, nothing clicked and in the end, nothing worked. That was the story of the Celtics’ season, and it was reflected through Kyrie Irving.
Irving, on the surface, had his best career season. He averaged 23.8 points per game, just 0.6 fewer than his average last year with a lower usage. He had 49-40-87 shooting splits and featured career-highs in both rebounds and assists. He was a better playmaker this year than ever, consistently looking for his star teammates and punishing the defense when it relaxed and left him in single coverage.
The team’s performance reflected that as well. Boston was +6.4 per 100 possessions with Irving on the floor in the regular season and just +0.8 when he was on the bench. That differential was second-best among the rotation players. The Celtics’ Offensive Rating was above 112 points per 100 possessions, which is stellar, especially compared to Boston’s mediocre average offense. The defense wasn’t great at 106.4, but with the scoring punch and matched up against starters so much, it was a quality performance.
Irving held the second-best Net Rating of any player (Al Horford was the best) in losses for Boston and second-best (Jayson Tatum) in wins.
So why did it never feel like this team was “right?”
Most of it was that the bench players were all significantly worse. It seemed like everyone was pressing with a lesser role after last year when so many had chances to shine. Is that directly attributable to Irving? The locker room comments always seemed to signal a disconnect. But ultimately those players and Brad Stevens are responsible for their performance.
But Irving didn’t help, either.
The playoffs, however, were a different matter. Irving finished with career playoff lows in scoring and shot just 39% from the field and 31% from 3-point range. The offense with Irving on the floor in the playoffs managed just 103 points per 100 possessions, and that’s despite Irving logging a career-high in playoff assists (7.0 per game). That’s not good enough, especially when the Celtics defense was 18 points worse with Irving on the floor.
Giannis Antetokounmpo routinely sought out Irving on switches, and Irving too often leaned into it or accepted it; Antetokounmpo averaged a field goal percentage nine points better (45.3) on Irving than the rest of the matchups. Offensively, Irving never looked plugged in. He settled consistently for shots and forced assists elsewhere vs. the Bucks.
Now Irving enters the summer of his first real free agency. He will likely go through the whole song and dance, having teams host him and make their pitch. The Celtics will get their chance. But Irving seemed miserable all year long, and while there can be changes to the roster (Terry Rozier is almost assuredly gone), choosing to return is opting into an already negative situation… which doesn’t seem like Irving’s style.
The Knicks and Nets don’t get to be choosy; neither do LeBron and the Lakers. The best fit for Irving is somewhere like Milwaukee, where he was almost traded two years ago. Irving will make a decision that is all about him, and hopefully he can find contentment this time. He wasn’t happy with LeBron. He wasn’t happy without him, as the leader. So now what? — Matt Moore