Kyrie Irving was the enemy. He might as well have played with a mask every night because he was the villain and the Celtics were the good guys. It was clear that he was an amazing basketball talent. The respect was there, but not the admiration.
However, seeing him play consistent has been a bit of a revelation for me. I suppose you could rightfully say that my green tinted eyes colored my view of him while he was wearing the word Cleveland across his chest.
Now that he’s in Boston, he’s still the same player, but we see the impact he can have on the game. Irving was not very efficient last night, making just 8 of his 20 shots (for a .400 FG%) and he seemed particularly cold in the 2nd quarter. However, when the fourth quarter rolled around, he scored 7 of his game high 25 points and looked like a Star with a capital S.
Here again, it feels weird to praise a guy for doing the same kind of things that I made fun of Kobe Bryant doing for years, but it makes more sense when I get to watch it up close. Irving has still averaged over 5 assists and has largely taken open looks (either created by the offense or by his incredible array of moves).
There are things that he does with the basketball that defy standard logic. Slicing through defenders where there’s no discernible space, going behind his back between 3 defenders when most people would be tripping over legs, zipping no look passes in and out of the lane, and so forth.
All that activity creates movement. It forces the defense to adjust. He pulls the defense with his unmistakable gravity and that opens things up for teammates to get open looks or more space to operate the offense in. It seems like he and Stevens are still figuring the best way to work together (something that should make the rest of the league shudder) and that they can still unlock more from each other.
None of this is to take away from Isaiah Thomas who had much of the same impact on the game for the Celtics. But someone described it well (and for the life of me I can’t remember who so I can’t give credit) by saying that Thomas has to work harder than everyone in the NBA to do what he does, while Kyrie is just a naturally gifted blue-chip star that carries himself with a swagger. Oh, and by the way, he’s already hit a Championship winning shot and is still just 25 years old.
In short, Irving used to be the bad guy. He’s showing me and all of Celtics fans how fun it is to root for him. He’s been unmasked.