Kyrie Irving was unhappy. The Celtics were down two in Orlando with 2.9 seconds left and the ball, time for one final play to win or tie. The play designed by Brad Stephens had Irving starting out near half-court (almost looking like a decoy), he started to make a run to come in and get the ball but Gordon Hayward passed to Jayson Tatum who took an 18-foot fadeaway that missed, and the Celtics lost. Irving didn’t like it at all.
It was Boston’s second loss in a row on this road trip, it dropped them to the fifth seed in the East, and after the game a frustrated Irving vented that the Celtics’ young core doesn’t understand what it takes to win and be a championship team, how to live up to that standard. Via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:
“It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced of just every single day. It’s not easy to be great.
“So the things you’re doing, that you’ve done your entire career, of being able to coast by in certain situations, and you’ve gotten away with your youth and stuff like that. Being on a championship ball club, you can’t get away with that….
“I was on the oldest team in the league, guys were on, I don’t want to say their last legs, but it’s all or nothing. Their window was closing, so they knew it,” said Irving. “Their joy in what they were doing was coming from a place of ‘This is my last thing that I’m doing before my career is over. I’m trying to win a championship.’ Every single day was built towards that.
“Here, these guys are coming into a window where it’s very big, they have 14 years, 13 years, however many years you wanna say, and you know the emphasis on every day doing it, it doesn’t become important to some young guys until they get later in their career where they have to appreciate their talent more, they have to adjust, or do something.”
Combine this with Marcus Morris shoving Jaylen Brown on the bench during a loss in Miami and it looks like there is a divide growing within the Celtics, with mostly veterans on one side and the young core on the other. How big a divide, how significant a problem remains to be seen.
Some of this was just frustration after a bad loss. How much more it is — or could grow into — should concern Celtics faithful. Is this just about a lack of experience, or is it something more?
This is still just the midpoint of the season, the Celtics are the five seed — disappointing compared to expectations — but with 40 games to get everyone in the locker room pulling the rope the same direction. Stephen can provide some leadership, but it has to come from the leaders in the locker room. Can Irving bring that? Horford?
Irving is right about this, the final steps from elite roster to championship level team are hard, much like the final steps up to the top of Mount Everest. Just getting there is difficult enough, but plenty of people still fall short of the summit, and you can’t underestimate those final steps. The Celtics are discovering how difficult those final steps can be.