Ahead of a November contest against the Detroit Pistons, Kyrie Irving was asked a question regarding his passing for the Celtics and whether or not he could make the same passes the year before. Celtics fans now are more acclimated to Irving and his proclivity for vocalizing galaxy brain memes, but this question came barely a month into the season. Back then, it was tremendous treat to hear him unleash the following philosophical retort.
Some of Kyrie’s thoughtful speculations can be a bit inaccessible to the average fan, but the straightforward nature of this quote made it easy to process. Think about something too hard or scrutinize for hours and you can always find something to invert your smile. If you want to find that happiness in the daily grind of a bleak world, appreciate something for its own merits and what makes it special.
This is the context for which I’d like to mount a defense for the much-maligned Shane Larkin. The young journeyman is -26 in +/- in the playoffs, the worst of any Celtic on the team, and his mistakes have been high profile and visible. A solid three point shooter during the regular season at 36%, Larkin is currently 2-9 from downtown and has been hunted by the Bucks on defense as a post-up target. The return of Marcus Smart and his clear impact on the series has only highlighted Larkin’s defensive deficiencies and I’ll admit that I was a bit puzzled to see Larkin get 14 minutes in the Game 5 win.
However, I think that, rather than punish Larkin for his struggles against a long Bucks squad that is a nightmare matchup for him, we need to appreciate Shane for what he’s done for the Celtics. In a year when ball handlers like Gordon Hayward, Irving, and Smart were unavailable for long stretches, Larkin’s comeback to the NBA has been a godsend. Throughout the regular season he earned the trust of Brad Stevens, someone who understands that game better than many of us could ever hope to. Larkin could have easily been out of the NBA, and he just have easily could have not been on this Celtics squad, given that the Celtics had 15 players under contract before they signed him.
Indeed, without Larkin in these playoff matchups, ball-handling duties when Terry Rozier was off the floor would have likely fallen to Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, or Marcus Morris. Larkin has been solid in that regard, and is only averaging 2.2 turnovers per 100 possessions this post season per NBA.com. This is well below the Celtics player average this postseason of 2.7 and well below other PG back-up Smart who had FIVE in his Game 5 return alone. It’s easy to beat up on Larkin for his poor +/- numbers, but the fact is the Celtics don’t have many healthy guys on the roster who can make passes like this.
Larkin hasn’t been good by NBA playoff rotation player standards, but let’s not get it twisted. He was literally out of the league a year ago. On a Celtics team that has been decimated by injuries, he’s provided a steadying presence above and beyond what one can reasonably expect from a veteran minimum player of his experience level. It’s true that Shane Larkin isn’t Kyrie Irving, but he’s also his own player with his own merits and his own contributions, regardless of our own expectations. We can get hung up on what he does and doesn’t do well and how many other players out there are better than him and I understand that impulse. However, I encourage all of my fellow Celtics fans to remember...
...comparison’s a thief of joy, man.