Irving Refreshes Legs with All-Star Reps, Prepping him for C's Final Stretch

CHARLOTTE – Kyrie Irving appreciates every opportunity he gets to play among his talented peers in the NBA All-Star Game. His appearance in Sunday’s showcase in Charlotte, however, was important to him on a different level, as it served as a vital step for the Boston Celtics point guard in his rehabilitation from a recent knee injury.

Irving’s strained his right iliotibial band on Feb. 7 after taking a hard hit during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Two nights later, his knee buckled, Irving believes as a result of the strain, during the second quarter of a matchup against the Clippers. He left that game, diagnosed with a strained right knee, and had not stepped foot on a basketball court since, other than to serve as a coach for Team USA in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge.

“It’s been too long since I’ve played the game,” said Irving, who felt no pain during his return to action Sunday night. “Like, I’ve shot a basketball twice in the last eight days, so just getting off my legs was good.”

Irving appeared to have not lost a step, as he tallied 13 points, a team-high nine rebounds and six assists during 24 minutes of action to help lead Team LeBron to a 178-164 win over Team Giannis.

Team LeBron faced a 95-82 disadvantage at halftime and trailed by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, but they were able to stage a late comeback with the help of Irving, making it a cherishable experience for the six-time All-Star.

“It’s always great, especially when you’ve got a game like that down the stretch,” Irving explained. “I thought it was getting out of hand early, which it was, not a lot of defense being played. But down the stretch, you just saw that guys had a competitive edge, and obviously, the bonus (a win) on top of it was good.”

The biggest bonus for Irving was having the opportunity to shake off his post-injury rust so that he is prepared to return to action Thursday night in Milwaukee, where the Celtics will take on the first-place Bucks.

“I’m happy. I’m very happy,” Irving said of the opportunity to get his first reps in eight days. “My strength and conditioning coach, my training staff, every single day it’s just been great communication with them, making sure that I’m good to play in the game. We understand that it’s the All-Star Game, but to go up and down before Thursday comes… shoot, I’d be a lot worse if I didn’t play in this game and then go out on Thursday and have that be my first time playing in about basically two weeks.”

Two weeks may not seem like a terribly prolonged period, but for an NBA player, it’s plenty of time for the cobwebs to start forming.

“Just five days in an NBA season is a lot of time,” Irving explained. “I don’t think people realize that, you know, being away from the game, especially if you have to be off your feet. So, getting up shots tonight, being around the competition, the camaraderie of course, but I’m just happy I was able to run up and down.”

In doing so, Irving should have fresh legs come Thursday, as he and the Celtics prepare to take on the final stretch of the season.

“It was good to get out and play the game that I love,” he said. “Now, I’m just looking forward to next Thursday, and getting back with the team.”

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