Just when we thought the Boston Celtics were turning the corner, they reverted back to their confusing selves. Two losses in Florida — one to Miami on Thursday, one to Orlando on Saturday — featured players going at each other and the coaching staff.
In Miami, Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown were caught shoving each other during a bench argument, which both later downplayed. Then, in Orlando, Kyrie Irving got in the act.
Irving was not happy at all with the way his Celtics closed out the game. He argued with head coach Brad Stevens about the final play of the game, and continued that anger on and off the court after it failed and Boston lost, 105-103.
Kyrie Irving was visibly upset with Gordon Hayward following a bad loss to the Magic. pic.twitter.com/crR3XADR3v— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 13, 2019
What happened on the play?
The Celtics had the ball on the sideline with just under three seconds left in the fourth quarter. Gordon Hayward was inbounding the ball, Irving started the play in the back court and Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris were also on the floor.
Hayward inbounded the ball to Tatum, who had cut to the corner. He took a fading baseline mid-range jumper that didn’t go in, sealing a loss to a Magic team they should have beaten decisively.
Of course Kyrie Irving wanted the last shot... pic.twitter.com/11oGgl7l4M— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 13, 2019
Irving threw his arms up as soon as the Hayward passed the ball to Tatum and continued barking at teammates afterwards. Irving appears to tell Hayward, “Why wouldn’t you throw it to Al?”
Stevens said after the game there were multiple options on this play. Tatum was one option. Another was Irving, who would have come off a Horford dribble hand-off coming from the backcourt, much like Isaiah Thomas did in this game-winner against Toronto in 2016.
Hayward chose to go to Tatum, and Irving, who had shot or drawn a foul on 10 of Boston’s 13 possessions prior to this one, was not happy.
But Irving wasn’t done
He challenged his younger teammates to be better, to understand the gravity of what it takes on a day-to-day basis to compete for a championship like he did in Cleveland.
Kyrie Irving had a lot to say postgame but what stood out was “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team. What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?”— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 13, 2019
Kyrie ended with “We can get there. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better. We need to win these games on the road. That’s on me as a leader. I need to be a better leader and to help get us there.”— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 13, 2019
Those same young players helped lead Boston to a game within the NBA Finals without Irving healthy last year, but as Irving noted, their run was a surprise then. This year, they were expected to be the best team in the East, and are instead in fifth place at 25-17. They’ve strung together impressive eight- and five-game winning streaks, but they haven’t been able to sustain those runs, at least not yet. They had won four in a row before their last two road losses to the Heat and the Magic.
Maybe we should have expected these ups and downs. Hayward missed all of last season with his ankle and leg injury, and Irving missed the entire playoffs to get surgery on his shoulder. Without them, the young Celtics, plus Al Horford and Marcus Morris made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in a Game 7 against LeBron James. Re-incorporating Irving and Hayward, and in turn giving Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier lesser roles, has proven to be a challenge.
Irving has been vocal about the team’s struggle to gel this year. In November, Irving called for the team to add another veteran, and in late December, Irving said the Celtics have the “chance of a lifetime,” but only if they can move past “ego-centric things.” These sorts of quotes are new for Irving, who admitted prior to the season that he was attempting to be more of a vocal leader. As he told SB Nation’s Jessica Camerato, it’s “just scary how much I have to learn about leadership.”
The question is whether the rest of the team will hear him and come together to capitalize on their full potential.