Kyrie Irving is playing very well in his first season with the Boston Celtics. He’s averaging 24.4 PPG and shooting a career-high 49.1% from the field. Unfortunately for the Celtics, their star point guard will be forced to miss time with a sore knee.
He missed the second half of Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers when his knee flared up. The pain started in a March 3 contest against the Houston Rockets and sidelined him for a win over the Chicago Bulls.
Many hoped that the problem was behind Irving when he returned to score 23 points and dish out eight assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But even then he complained about how his knee felt.
Head coach Brad Stevens and Irving agreed that the best decision will be for the guard to sit out a few games to heal up. There’s no definite timetable on his return at this point.
Irving had the following to say to MassLive.com’s Jay King:
“It’s just been aching for a little bit,” Irving said. “I just think I need to take some time. … “I’m not concerned. Where we are in the season, I’m pretty comfortable.
“I think that competitively, I think that’s what I’m more or less concerned about, just when I actually do get back on the floor I want to feel the level I expect myself to play at and I want to play at. And being able to sustain it. So right now I’m unable to do that. So I’ve just gotta deal with that.”
Added Irving: “I think (taking time off) will probably be the best thing, just instead of kind of hoping that it gets better over the two or three days which it usually does. It’s aching a little bit more than I want it to now, so I’m just going to take the necessary time.”
ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg also reported on the situation:
“At halftime, he was talking about [the knee], felt some soreness in it, probably similar to the Houston game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He was getting it worked on after halftime. We don’t know what it is above general knee soreness, and he doesn’t seem overly concerned, big-picture, with it. But obviously it’s been giving him fits here and there for the last five to eight days or so.”
Stevens sounded open to the idea of shelving Irving until he’s more confident in the knee.
“If he doesn’t feel 100 percent, then we need to have him sit, and so I think that that is something that we’ve all talked about, and [that’s] why he didn’t come back in [against Indiana],” Stevens said.
Celtics could Struggle without Irving
Given that Stevens would also like Irving to rest, sitting out seems like the best short-term decision. But it’s also likely that Boston could struggle in his absence.
While the team’s record without Irving is 5-2, the Celtics have had trouble getting quality shots when he’s not on the floor. The team scores just 101.1 ponts per 100 possessions without their floor general. But they score 108.7 points per 100 possessions when he does play.
Terry Rozier is a capable fill-in at point guard and can generate some offense. But the other option, Marcus Smart, is a defensive specialist who doesn’t shoot well from the field. The good news, though, is that Rozier and Smart bring a nice balance at the position.
Injury Woes for the Celtics
Boston has a deep roster with quality bench players. But this depth is being tested with the injuries that the team has been hit with. Gordon Hayward headlines the list since he suffered a broken ankle in the season opener and won’t play until the 2018-19 campaign.
Second-year forward Jaylen Brown suffered a bad fall in the game against Minnesota. Thankfully, he didn’t do any structural damage, but he will be sidelined for at least a few more games.
Center Al Horford was forced to sit out the Indiana game with an illness. With he and Irving on the bench, the team produced 12.2 fewer points per 100 possessions.
And German rookie Daniel Theis will miss the rest of the year after tearing a meniscus in his left knee.
Goal is to Prepare for the Postseason
The Celtics are having another fine campaign that sees them holding down the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed. They’re currently 3.5 games behind the first-place Toronto Raptors and are well ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second spot.
I doubt that Stevens is willing to rest on the team’s laurels and just accept that they’re resigned to the two seed. But with just 15 games to go, the smart play here is to sit Irving for a few games so that he’s ready for the playoffs.
The team will be hoping for another deep postseason run. Last year, the Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals, where they met the Cavs. Boston wasn’t really very competitive in this series, losing 4-1 in a matchup that featured multiple Cleveland blowout victories.
This convinced Ainge that he needed to shake up the roster. The result was multiple trades that sent away all but three players from the 2016-17 team.
Irving was the biggest addition in this busy offseason. The 26-year-old was a costly add that required sending All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick to the Cavs. But based on the numbers, this looks like a good trade in hindsight.
Of course, how Boston performs in the playoffs will go a long way towards validating whether all of the off-season moves were a good idea.
Some criticized Ainge’s decision to overhaul the team’s defensive identity. But they haven’t taken any step back in terms of regular season results so far. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how they do come playoff time in April.
2018 Celtics Futures (via GTBets.eu)
Celtics Odds to Win 2018 NBA Championship
- Golden State -170
- Houston +250
- Cleveland +850
- Toronto +950
- Boston +1400
- Oklahoma City +3500
- Philadelphia +4500
- San Antonio +5000
- Washington +6000
Celtics Odds to Win 2018 Eastern Conference
- Cleveland +140
- Toronto +180
- Boston +350
- Philadelphia +1200
- Washington +1800
- Milwaukee +5000
- Indiana +6000