NEWPORT, Rhode Island – Just a few days ago, Kyrie Irving had never been anything other than an opponent to all of the Boston Celtics. Now, Irving is a teammate, and the C’s are quickly growing to enjoy that change.
Irving and the Celtics are two days and four practices into their season and have spent the entirety of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday together. They’re learning each other’s personalities off the court, and although many of them have played against Irving in the past, they’re learning about his tendencies on the court as well.
Al Horford has seen in person how great Irving is, many, many times. In fact, Horford had an up-close and personal view of Irving dropping 42 points on the Celtics during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals in May.
Yet still, it took only two days of practices for the 6-foot-3 guard to essentially drop Horford’s jaw seven feet to the floor.
“His ability to finish just keeps surprising me,” Horford said Wednesday afternoon as he raised his eyebrows. “The degree of difficulty on some of those layups that he is able to put up… I mean, it’s impressive.”
Likewise, Terry Rozier, who has been tasked with defending Irving for much of the team’s practice time, has seen greatness handling the ball in front of him.
“He’s a tough one to guard, probably one of the toughest guys I’ve ever had to guard in my life,” Rozier said.
The third-year guard then explained what, exactly, makes Irving so difficult to defend.
“I just feel like he has so many counters,” he stated. “If you cut off one counter, he’ll go to the next one. He’s just so smart. He gets his teammates open and he knows the game.”
Jayson Tatum, a good friend of Irving’s well before their arrivals this summer in Boston, has not been forced to defend Irving in a full-time role during practice. He has, however, awed at the video-game like play that Irving displays on the court each and every day.
“[Being his teammate is] different,” said Tatum. “Seeing him every day and being with him, and just seeing the type of player he is. It’s different when you’re watching on TV than when you’re in practice and team meals … It’s just something you see on TV, and now it’s like, it’s right in front of you. You see how tough it is to guard somebody like that.”
It will be Brad Stevens’ responsibility to make it increasingly difficult for opponents to defend Irving this season.
Irving had played second fiddle to LeBron James for the past three seasons. This season in Boston, the offense will almost certainly run through Irving. Stevens wants to do his best to efficiently utilize the point guard’s strengths in high volume.
“As good as he is with the ball, he’s just as good off of it,” said Stevens. “So we’ll do a lot of both, and the key is to do it with some pace.”
Stevens has been excited by the pace that Irving and the C’s have displayed during their opening practices of the season. He stated Tuesday that “when we were at our very best [Tuesday], in the first day, we were really playing with a motor.” He followed that comment up Wednesday by saying that the morning practice session was “the best that we have looked.”
That’s pretty positive feedback for a brand-new team, with a brand-new, all-world point guard running the show.
The team’s trip to Newport may have helped to speed up the acclimation process for the new crew, which includes 10 new players and many new members on the team’s training staff. Irving, according to Rozier, has played a substantial role in the team growing closer together in a very brief amount of time.
“He made it seem like he’s been on the team for a couple of years,” said Rozier. “He made himself comfortable and everyone around him comfortable. He talks to everyone, whether it’s on the bus or whether it’s in practice. He’s great to be around.”
He wasn’t great to be around in May. Back then, he was busy dicing the Celtics up and kicking them to the curb.
Now Irving is on the other side of the ball. He is a Celtic, and his teammates wouldn’t have it any other way.