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How Kyrie Irving went from having a minor knee injury to needing season-ending surgery

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Irving will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, an issue that originally seemed minor. How did we get here?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics star guard Kyrie Irving is done for the season due to knee surgery, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports. A year that began with so much promise and a chance to prove himself outside of LeBron James’ shadow will end prematurely.

This was supposed to be a “minimally-invasive procedure” that would have kept him out for 3-6 weeks. The procedure was supposed remove a “tension wire” in the knee that’s been present since a 2015 surgery on his patella tendon, the Celtics announced then.

But a second, more serious procedure proved to be necessary once an infection was discovered in the knee, according to the team.

Following a mid-March procedure to remove a tension wire that had been implanted at the same time as the screws, pathology indicated the presence of a bacterial infection at the site of the hardware. To ensure that no infection remains in the knee, the screws will be removed.

Knee pain has followed Irving for most of the season, but it didn’t seem that serious.

Irving has not played since March 11. Initial MRI results came back negative and tendinitis was the diagnosis. With the pain not subsiding, Irving went to get a second opinion earlier in March instead of going on Boston’s four-game road trip.

“I don’t really think about [Irving missing the season] until I’m told something like that,” coach Brad Stevens said on March 22. “At the end of the day, like I said, if he doesn’t go on the trip, right, and we know he’s going to be gone for four games, then we have to prepare for those four games regardless. So we have to make sure that we’re as prepared as we can for that, then go from there.”

Now, Stevens needs to think about it.

How did we get here? It’s a long story.

This is a lingering issue stemming from at least three years ago

Back in 2015, when Irving was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he missed several playoff games with left knee pain. When the Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals anyway, he returned for Game 1. Then, this happened:

Irving was diagnosed with a fractured kneecap and did not return to the court until midway through the 2015-16 season. But the lingering effects of that injury have led Irving to develop patellar tendinitis, which has flared up at different points over the years.

It just so happens that the flare-ups this year have been more serious. Irving missed a game in mid-January and three games at the beginning of February, but otherwise played through the pain. That pain got worse as March rolled around, though, and did not subside despite rest.

A major surgery loomed on the horizon

All parties kew Irving would eventually need surgery. That much was not in dispute, not from the Celtics or Irving himself. In fact, Irving threatened to have surgery last summer if the Cavaliers didn’t trade him, according to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon. (Irving denied the report when asked).

The question was whether Irving could delay that surgery until after the season or even beyond that. It appears he couldn’t, even though the Celtics figured he could.

“He has some surgery that may need to happen,” Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub in mid-March. “But maybe not this summer. Maybe the following summer or maybe the summer after that. I think that he could probably do it any time he wanted, but I’m not sure that it’s needed at this moment.”

Since then, the pain in Irving’s need remained constant. The hope was that the planned “minimally invasive procedure” could blunt that pain temporarily and allow Irving to return to the court for the postseason. Instead, Irving will miss the rest of the playoffs, and may still need more serious surgery later on if this procedure and the removal of the bacterial infection doesn’t fix the knee.

That was not the outcome Irving wanted.

“I hope not,” Irving said earlier in March on the subject of surgery, via MassLive.com. “I’ve been down that road before. I’ve had a fractured kneecap already. So I think taking games like this, being smart about it probably will put me in a a better position not to be out for a long period of time. That’s the last thing I want to do.”

But it became necessary once an infection was discovered

As the Celtics noted, the bacterial infection in Irving’s knee was discovered while undergoing the less serious “minimally invasive procedure.” That necessitated a second surgery that ended Irving’s season.

Irving confirmed the presence of the infection in an Instagram post:

It’s simply a test of your perseverance and Will, to be present, even in the wake of what’s going on. In this case, finding out I have an infection in my knee is definitely a moment that I now accept and move past without holding on to the all the what ifs, proving the nay-Sayers completely f***ing wrong, and accomplishing the goals I’ve set out for the team and myself. This season was only a snapshot of what’s to come from me. Trust Me. “The journey back to the top of Mt. Everest continues.” #StandingRockSiouxTribe

In the end, it’s what he must do. And the Celtics’ playoff hopes are likely dashed because of it.

This story was originally published on March 23.