Suiting up for his first postseason with the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving played a pivotal part in leading the Celtics to five straight playoff wins.
But Tuesday night in Milwaukee, the Irving the Celtics have become accustomed to seeing in this postseason was nowhere to be found. Irving turned in a downright ugly performance as the C’s suffered their first setback of the postseason with the Bucks dismantling Boston, 123-102, to even the series at 1-1.
Irving shot a dreadful 4-for-18 (22.2%) from the floor and was held to just nine points. It was only the second time in Irving’s career that he had been held to single digits in a postseason game with the only other time coming as a Cleveland Cavalier in an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against the Chicago Bulls in 2015 when he played just 12 minutes and scored six points before exiting with an injury.
As one of Boston’s leaders and its only true superstar, this is the position Irving coveted in trying to get out of LeBron’s shadow.
Irving shouldered the responsibility for his putrid performance after the loss and the weight of this playoff run will continue to squarely fall on Irving in good times and bad.
“There’s no extra burden. This is what I signed up for,” Irving said. “This is what Boston traded for me for. Being able to get back in the trenches, get ready for another battle on Friday, this is what you live for.”
In the loss to the Bucks, Irving never found his offensive rhythm that led him to post 26 points on 12-of-21 shooting to go along with 11 assists in a Game 1.
The bulkier Eric Bledsoe made things more difficult for Irving as Bledsoe stepped up his defense on the elite guard. Irving didn’t finish with his usual craftiness in traffic as he made just 1-of-7 of his shots from inside the paint, including getting blocked twice by Bledsoe.
Couple that with a 1-for-5 showing from beyond the arc, and it is a performance that Irving certainly would like to forget.
“Some shots are going to go in, some shots aren’t,” Irving said. “I tried to get to my spots, but they were really sending three over to every single place I went on the court. That’s a sign of respect and for me I just got to be more efficient in controlling the tempo of the game, pace, where I want to get to on the floor and making reads better around that midrange area. They did a great job of switching, forcing me left. Getting into the paint wasn’t hard, it’s just going in there and making the right decisions.”
With the Celtics traveling home for Game 3, Irving has his shot at redemption. It’s understandable for superstars to have off games – see Giannis, Game 1 – but it can’t be followed up with another clunker.
Irving’s incredible talent along with his attitude to be the single, go-to man away from LeBron brought on this weight to lead the way for the Celtics, especially in the playoffs.
Irving had delivered up until this point, and now, it will fall again on him to answer and get the Celtics back on track.
“Basketball is fun like this when you have to respond,” Irving said.