BOSTON — After opening the new calendar year with two of his quietest offensive outputs since joining the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving reflected Friday night on his maturation as a player and said he now values team success over living up to the individual expectations that were placed on him after being dealt to Boston.
Irving scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting in Wednesday’s win over his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, but earned high praise from coach Brad Stevens for the way he deferred to his teammates. Irving scored 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting in Friday’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, but flirted with what would have been only his second career triple-double while finishing with nine rebounds and eight assists.
Asked about overcoming shooting struggles, Irving turned introspective about how he approaches poor shooting nights.
“As a young player I used to get stuck in one game and think that this was going to be the end all, be all. If I don’t shoot well tonight then I don’t know if I’m going to make it until tomorrow, man,” he said. “And that’s just how maniacal I am about the game. But now it’s really about the big picture. As long as you can affect the game on the defensive end, offensive end, and put your team in a great position to win, that’s the only thing that really matters.
“All the other stats and everything, you can try to make important — you can — but it’ll deviate you. I’ve been there.”
Irving is averaging 24.4 points this season, down from a career-best 25.2 with Cleveland last season. But Irving is playing nearly three minutes less per game and finds comfort in the fact that Boston is atop the Eastern Conference at 32-10 overall.
The Celtics have won five straight games and sit 2.5 games in front of the Toronto Raptors and 5 games ahead of the Cavaliers.
Irving, who arrived in Boston with pressure to prove himself while removed from the shadow of LeBron James, said he has taken a step back this season and has put a greater importance on his team.
“I can’t necessarily pinpoint a specific point, but, for me, this season has been a learning experience to be able to do that,” he said. “The expectations that were brought forth on this season, that were brought forth on myself, expectations that I had, if I didn’t have that patience, then I probably would have lost it. And I can’t lose it.
“And I refuse to. I’m just too strong internally and mentally to do that. And then the talent on the court will do itself, as long as I put the work in every single day. So there are a lot of aspects of the game of basketball that are considered and are not considered, they are individually kind of figured out at that time, and I’m just on my journey. That being said, it just took some time to figure it out.”