While Kyrie Irving is no stranger to the postseason, having played in 53 career playoffs games before coming to Boston, Sunday’s series opener against the Indiana Pacers was his first as a Celtic.
It had been nearly two years since Irving played in the playoffs – the last time being for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals – as the star guard sat out the C’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago due to a knee injury.
But now healthy and ready to lead when it matters most, Irving has the chance to show again that he is at his most comfortable playing under the bright lights of the postseason.
“It feels good,” said Irving on suiting up for the playoffs. “I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity and just want to have fun doing so.”
The Celtics will look to lean on Irving’s playoff experience to try to build on their 1-0 series lead over the Pacers in Game 2 on Wednesday. Only Al Horford has played in more playoff games than Irving and by a wide margin, too, with 112 career playoff games under his belt.
Irving didn’t play his best in an 84-74 Game 1 victory, but yet found ways to be effective on both ends of the floor. Irving shot just 35.2% (6-for-17) from the floor, but was 6-for-6 from the free throw line and grabbed five rebounds to go along with seven assists. Per Celtics Stats, Irving became just the third player for the Celtics, joining Isaiah Thomas and JoJo White, to record at least 20 points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in his Celtics postseason debut. Irving was also second on the team in plus-minus with a plus-19, which only trailed Horford.
But what was most noticeable about Irving’s playoff debut with the C’s was his intensity on the defensive end. With Marcus Smart sidelined, Irving seemed to channel the defensive stalwart at times by picking off passes and locking in to his defensive assignments, which translated into easy offense.
Kyrie gets the steal and finds Tatum down the floor for three! pic.twitter.com/Nfq4SuLsv4— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 14, 2019
“I do that anyway. That’s always what I’ve been about,” said Irving of trying to make hustle plays in Smart’s absence. “I think I’ve elevated that level of play on both ends of the floor to be able to do it.”
The Celtics showed some playoff nerves early on, including Irving. The team scored just 38 first half points, but Irving believes that that just comes with the territory of playoff basketball. He should know after all and Irving will have to put any jitters in the past if he wants to make his second playoff game as a Celtic better than his first.
“It’s the playoffs. You kind of expect that,” Irving said. “It’s the same basketball. Same rims. Just the intensity is a little higher. The refs were letting us play a little bit more. Just got to adapt, that’s all.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs. You never know, clearly with the games going on around the league. You just got be prepared for whatever happens and just be able to power through, stay together as a group and just worry about getting the W. The only thing that matters is managing the game well enough to get the W.”