BOSTON — As the Celtics racked up two important wins to head into the NBA All-Star break with momentum, their best player watched from the sidelines.
Kyrie Irving missed each of Boston’s last two games with a knee injury. The C’s kicked off their back-to-back with a gritty road win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, followed by a 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden on Wednesday.
While there’s no doubt the Celtics play differently without their star point guard, some believe the Irving-less C’s are better. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, is not of that company.
“No. We need Kyrie to be the best version of ourselves,” Stevens said after Wednesday’s game. “We all need to consistently play better as a group. We’ve done that at times, and we’ve rode Kyrie in a lot of cases and he’s carried us un a lot of games. We need everybody at their fullest and there’s no question about it that he’s going to be a guy that is going to make a ton of plays for us moving forward. We just need him to get healthy.”
Boston now is 9-2 this season without Irving, but it’s important to consider who those wins came against. Four were over current playoff teams, but two teams in that bunch — the Charlotte Hornets and Pistons — have losing records as it stands. Another came via a triumph over the Brooklyn Nets, who sit just one game over .500 heading into the break.
It’s probably beneficial for the Celtics to play a handful of games over the course of the season without Irving, as it provides reps to players deeper on the roster who might not receive them otherwise. But to think Boston is a better team without one of the league’s premier players is pretty foolish.
Yes, it’s easy to point to the 2018 playoff run, which saw the C’s fall one game short of the NBA Finals without Irving. But had Irving been in the mix, one has to imagine Boston would have gotten past the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially considering that nail-biting Eastern Conference finals Game 7 which exposed the Celtics’ lack of a closer.
The top portion of the East is far stronger than it was last season, which will make Boston’s path to the Finals that much more difficult. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how important Irving is to his team’s championship hopes.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports