With the exception of Jayson Tatum, the Celtics starters did not look good against the Nets on Friday. And it wasn’t just the typical first-quarter struggles. If it wasn’t for Tatum (26 points on 10 of 19 shooting, 4-for-8 from three) and quality minutes from Boston’s bench, the finish would’ve been much uglier than 112-107. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' loss, click here.)
But for everything that happened in the 48 minutes of gameplay, all the focus was on what happened on the court afterward, when the Celtics had a chance to say hello to Kyrie Irving.
Whether it’s been Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens or any of the players who’ve been asked to speak on the matter throughout the home-and-home series, none of the Celtics have been blaming Irving for last year’s failure. He had a part in it like everyone else involved, but his former organization refuses to throw him under the bus.
Now, from an organizational perspective, it’s best to not do something like that. It probably won’t make it easier to attract star players if coaches or members of the front office are publicly bashing stars that couldn’t make it work.
“There (are) no hard feelings. I mean, I didn’t hug Kyrie to get on tv,” Smart said. “That’s two guys, you know, that are trying to make a living for their family, being professional athletes. That’s my brother, regardless of what he did. You know, he works hard.”
“And, quite frankly, I’m really, honestly tired of hearing about Kyrie. Kyrie [is> no longer with the Boston Celtics. And it’s a slap to everybody on this team to keep hearing Kyrie’s name, because every last one of these guys (has) put in the work and we continue to put in the work. And we’re still here, we’re still competing. But yet, everybody, including the Boston fans, wants to talk about Kyrie. Let’s talk about (the) Boston Celtics”
Jaylen Brown expressed a similar message after the Celtics won in Boston on Wednesday.
“I think everything worked out for the better for everybody,” he said. “I don't think anybody in Boston should have anything to complain or boo about, to be honest. I think we're winning, playing good basketball, the Celtics look good, Boston fans should be nothing but happy. I think the energy should shift from that to being more positive.”
As much as the players have moved on, the Celtics fanbase is a different story — which is fair.
Irving made a promise, backed out and never said anything to the fans about it. Based on what Irving has expressed since he went to Brooklyn, he’s doesn’t feel the need to say more than he has because of the struggles he’s gone through — which is why he went off on Instagram in response to the chants on Wednesday.
What’s maddening about this whole thing is Irving would’ve been a king if he stayed in Boston. It doesn’t seem like he understands that. Or, maybe Irving knows and he just doesn’t care.
Now, it’s all good and well that the Celtics want everyone to move on, but even if we all stop talking about Irving, when March 3 rolls around and the Nets are in town there will still be chants at the Garden. If Irving truly wants it to end, he should say something. If he doesn’t, just embrace it. He’s said himself, it’s just basketball.
What matters now for the Celtics, now that they’re 18 games into the 2019-20 season, is the product on the floor has been better without him. The Nets are a solid team and will be extremely difficult when Kevin Durant comes back next season, but the Celtics would not look the same if Irving was still in charge.
Not because he’s overrated or anything. In the end, he just wasn’t the right fit.
Whether it’s Smart, Brown or anyone else, they don’t care if Irving was or wasn’t the right fight anymore — because they’re trying to show everyone this team is plenty good enough as is. Even after Friday’s loss, they’ve done well with getting that message across — to this point.