The Kyrie Irving-less Boston Celtics have picked up back-to-back impressive wins following a 28-point collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers last Saturday. As a result, the Celtics have improved to 9-2 on the season without their superstar point guard.
It’s Boston, we all understand that. So these kinds of topics and debates come up all the time when a good team wins a game without their best player. All of a sudden “this team doesn’t need Kyrie [Irving],” “They’re not cut out to win a title,” and “This team has so much fun when Kyrie [Irving] isn’t playing.”
Sound familiar? This notion that the Boston Celtics are a better team when Kyrie Irving isn’t playing is just utterly ridiculous.
Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston took to Twitter to try and tackle this notion head-on.
Yes, Celtics are 10-2 without Kyrie. No, they are absolutely not better without him.
Net rtg w/ Kyrie: +8.9
Net rtg w/o Kyrie: +1.8
Offensive rtg w/ Kyrie: 113.8
Offensive rtg w/o Kyrie: 105.0
"We need Kyrie to be the best version of ourselves.”https://t.co/p86m4wgyWI
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) February 14, 2019
Okay, so what do those numbers tell you? Perhaps that the Boston Celtics are just a really good team, that they can actually compete when star talent goes down? Not every team has to respond like a LeBron James-led roster, and just completely forget how to play the game when he gets injured or takes a rest day.
The Celtics are actually just that good on paper.
Let’s also take a dive into the 12 games the Celtics have played this season without Kyrie Irving, shall we? In these 12 games, the Celtics have played just four games against a team with a winning percentage above .500. They have beaten the likes of the 27-29 Charlotte Hornets, the 12-46 Cleveland Cavaliers twice, the 26-31 Dallas Mavericks, the 27-30 Minnesota Timberwolves, the 26-30 Detroit Pistons, and the 25-33 New Orleans Pelicans.
While they have also beaten the 37-21 Philadelphia 76ers and the 30-29 Brooklyn Nets, the combined winning percentage of every team they have beaten is just .458.
The two games they lost were at the hands of the Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets, whose combined winning percentage is .534.
So let’s not lose track of the competition they’re facing in these games. They’ve been facing generally lackluster teams who are starting to think more about the rebuild than making the playoffs. Generally speaking, a team with the depth of the Boston Celtics should be able to fend off these teams.
The only true argument that could be made against Kyrie Irving is that the play of Gordon Hayward is astronomically better when Irving isn’t playing. In nine games, Hayward is averaging 17.7 points per game on 56.4 percent shooting from the field, and 42.1 percent from behind the three-point line. Whereas he’s averaging just 9.9 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from the floor and 31.2 percent from three in the 44 Hayward in Irving have played together.
However, the proof is in the pudding. While Hayward doesn’t perform to the same level as he does when Irving sits, the team still has a net rating that is 7.1 points higher when Irving plays, and an offensive rating of 8.8 points higher when he plays.
You need stars to win in this league, especially come playoff time. People like to point to last year’s playoff run as to why Boston is better off without no. 11. How’d that turn out? Jayson Tatum set the world on fire with his massive dunk on LeBron James and led Boston with 24 points. Yet they still lost in Game 7 by eight, scoring an abysmal 79 points.
Do you know what killed them? Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier combining for 17 points on 7-32 shooting, including an atrocious 3-22 behind the arc. Tatum’s heroics fell in vain because the Celtics didn’t have that closer who could knock down big shots in pressure situations.
Nobody knows what hitting a clutch shot is quite like Kyrie Irving, and you probably have lost count on the number of big shots he’s hit over the season.
So no, the Boston Celtics are not a better team without Kyrie Irving on the floor. They have beat up on pedestrian teams, and are doing a great job showcasing their depth. Can that be the storyline from now on? The Celtics are great when Irving doesn’t play because they have a roster that is loaded with depth. Stop trying to push superstars out the door, because those are the types of players you need to raise banners in your arena.