11/1 Game Preview: Kings at Celtics
BOSTON -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked after San Antonio's loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday about the play of Kyrie Irving.
"No different than any other night I've seen him play," Popovich said after Irving punished his team with another strong game. "He's a hell of a player, you think he's going to change? Kyrie does what he does, and he does it very well."
The thing is, Irving is doing what he does with a new team -- his Celtics taking a five-game winning streak into their Wednesday night home game against the Sacramento Kings.
The Celtics came into the season with what they thought would be a new Big Three, as Gordon Hayward was signed, Irving was acquired and Al Horford came back for his second year. But that changed less than halfway into the first quarter of the first game, with Hayward going down with a gruesome left leg injury. The Big Three became the Big Two and a bunch of young guys.
Boston lost opening night in Cleveland and then the next night at home to the Milwaukee Bucks. But things have changed since, and Irving has overcome some shooting problems and also more than helped out on defense as the Celtics have held all five opponents under 100 points -- matching the longest such defensive stretch in the coaching tenure of Brad Stevens.
"I felt like I had to adjust to them," Irving said of his new teammates. "That was probably the biggest thing. Coming in and even playing pickup with those guys, they have a team-oriented-at-all-times vibe and culture here, and I had to be able to adjust my individual talents to the greater good of the group.
"I feel that has been going a lot better than even I expected because of the guys that we have in this locker room. They make it a lot easier."
Said Stevens: "You can tell he's getting more comfortable every time he takes the floor."
Irving went through a three-game stretch in which he was 12-for-55 from the floor and 4-for-15 from 3-point range.
But in the last three games, he has gone 30-for-57 (10-for-16 Monday) and 7-for-19 from behind the arc.
For his first seven games as a Celtic, he is averaging 21.7 points and 5.7 assists.
"He's leading our team in steals right now. I'm kind of upset about that because he's got bragging rights over us," Terry Rozier said. "He's been doing a good job. He's been playing great offensively and defensively."
Irving has never been known for his defense, but it appears the hustling play of the young players (he is all of 25) has him coming through on that end of the floor as well.
After the Monday game, Irving, who asked to be traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers, took a little shot back at his past, saying, "There's no individual goals first, and I understand that and that's something I couldn't wait to be part of."
The Kings opened a three-game road trip with a 101-83 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night. Sacramento (1-6) comes to Boston with five straight losses.
The Kings shot 42 percent (37 of 88) Tuesday night, including 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
"We're not making a lot of shots," Kings coach Dave Joerger said. "We're getting shots, but then we air-ball 3-footers. We're executing and getting the ball to spots on the floor that we want to get to. Buddy Hield is a good shooter and he's really struggling right now, and that's hurting our offense a bit."
Hield missed 7 of 9 shots and scored four points at Indiana.
Boston and Sacramento split their two-game series last season, but the Celtics have won nine straight against the Kings at TD Garden. The Kings are 5-1 in the last six vs. the Celtics on their home floor.