Celtics Fall to Spurs, But Irving Continues to Rise

SAN ANTONIO – The final few seconds of Friday night’s matchup in San Antonio must’ve felt like déjà vu for Kyrie Irving.

In the midst of an incredible scoring effort, Irving had a chance to send his Celtics into overtime against the Spurs, just like he had during his career-high 57-point performance at AT&T Center three seasons prior as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This time, however, his game-tying, corner-3 attempt at the buzzer didn’t fall through the net; instead it took a 360-degree spin around the rim, before falling to the hardwood to cap off a 105-102 defeat for the Celtics.

“I thought it was cash money,” Irving said of the 3-point attempt that would have upped his scoring total to 39 points had it fallen. “I thought it was gong to hit the bottom of the net, but obviously I didn’t put enough on it.”

The miss came as a surprise because Irving had been hitting shots left and right, not only Friday night, but for the past three weeks. He entered Friday’s game shooting 57.6 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from 3-point range over his previous 10 games. He continued that trend against the Spurs by hitting 13-of-21 from the field, including 6-of-10 from long range.

Irving’s efficiency over the last 11 games is an incredible improvement compared to his first 15 games, during which he shot 42.9 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from downtown.

What has caused this sudden shooting spike?

For one, Irving says he’s in much better condition than he was at the start of the season, as he is more physically able to sustain the rigors of a 48-minute game now that he has shaken off the summer rust.

Also, there’s the fact that he’s growing more comfortable around his new teammates and is developing a greater understanding of the Celtics’ style of play.

“It’s just a whole thing with getting used to the system, getting used to everybody,” said Irving, who is shooting a career-best 49.6 percent from the field this season. “Just being able to play with that mindset every single game and not (have) too many questions that you have to go to coach to ask, like, ‘Where am I supposed to be?’ or, ‘Can I back-cut on this one?’ It’s just all an understanding and being able to watch the game and study it, and then be able to produce it out on the floor.”

At the start of the season, Brad Stevens was hit with questions regarding Irving’s early inconsistency, but the coach stressed that it would only be a matter of time before Irving’s production would improve.

Sure enough, Irving’s scoring average has increased by a full eight points over the last 11 games, from 20.3 points per game to 28.3 PPG, while increasing his shot total by just one extra field goal attempt per game.

“We all talked about it at the start of the year when he was just kind of finding his rhythm and groove,” said Stevens. “He’s such a great shooter and has such special ability and multiple different ways to have that ball find the net, that you’re not worried about him when he goes into a little slump at any time because he’s bound to make a ton in a row after that.”

Irving’s teammates knew that he would show great improvement over the first few months, and they also believe that he’s just scratching at the surface of his potential.

“He’s the best point guard in the league in a lot of people’s opinion, and in my opinion,” said Jaylen Brown, who had an efficient night of his own, dropping 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. “He’s been doing great things for us all year, and he’s going to continue to do it. He’s only going to get more and more comfortable and be more and more dominant.”

That’s why you shouldn’t fret over Irving’s miss at the buzzer Friday night. He’s hit those big shots time and time again over the course of his career, and he’ll surely hit many more during his time with the Celtics, especially considering the way he’s been shooting the ball of late.”