Kyrie Irving Named All-Star Starter, Celtics Fall Without Him

BOSTON – On the same night that Kyrie Irving was named an Eastern Conference starter for the 2018 All-Star Game, the Boston Celtics got a cold, hard taste of reality of what it’s like to play a game without their transcendent leader on the floor.

Irving, who garnered the most votes of any guard in the East, earned his fifth All-Star nod Thursday evening, but was later sidelined with left shoulder soreness as his Celtics took on the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. His absence proved critical, as Boston produced a season-low point total in the form of an 89-80 loss to Philly.

“I just think we had a tough night trying to figure things out with Kyrie being out,” said C’s forward Jaylen Brown, who logged 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. “ I’m not trying to make that an excuse, but the ball kind of stuck on [Philadelphia’s] side of the floor. We just didn’t get enough ball movement… they were switching everything and I give credit to the Sixers; they defended us really well.”

Boston’s offensive stagnancy resulted in a dismal first three quarters, during which they mustered only 53 points on 22 field goal makes, all while turning the ball over 18 times. Boston lacked its typical aggression early on and didn’t make a single trip to the free-throw line until late in the third quarter.

“I just didn’t think we played hard enough on offense,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I thought we played hard on defense. And it’s a unique game when you’re playing hard on one end of the floor but not on the other, but we were just very sloppy, over-dribbled, the dribble didn’t take us anywhere, not moving the ball, not getting to spots. And when Kyrie’s out, you’ve got to be even better at those things.”

Without Irving, “It was very different,” said Al Horford, who logged a team-high-tying 14 points. “Kyrie opens the game up for all of us, and for whatever reason we let their pressure affect us. I made some careless turnovers and we just didn’t play with a lot of poise.”

The Celtics eventually discovered their poise during the fourth quarter, as they outscored Philadelphia 27-18. Boston curbed its mistakes on the offensive end, turning the ball over just once during the final 12 minutes, while intensifying their play on the defensive end to force seven Philadelphia turnovers.

Alas, it was too late, as Boston had dug itself into a hole that was too deep to climb out of. As a result, they left the court frustrated, knowing that they have to do a better job of picking up the slack when Irving is out.

“With or without Kyrie, that’s unacceptable,” said Marcus Smart, who started in place of Irving and tallied 13 points and five rebounds. We just acted like we didn’t know what we were doing out there.”

Added Brown, “Kyrie Irving is special to our team and everybody sees that. When he’s not playing, it’s evident. But when he’s not there, we’ve got to find ways to fill in for him.”

Fortunately, Irving shouldn’t be sidelined for long. He explained the nature of the shoulder injury ahead of the game, and said it’s nothing to be concerned about.

Irving revealed that the soreness in his shoulder had been building up for a few weeks and so he decided to take few days off to rest it and get some imaging done. His MRI came back negative, and he hopes to be back in the lineup Sunday afternoon when the Celtics host the Orlando Magic at TD Garden.