Irving Says Schedule Left C's in Survival Mode

WALTHAM, Mass. – What goes through an NBA player’s mind when he plays 39 games in 73 days?

“Just survival, man,” Kyrie Irving said. “Just survival.”

Irving’s Celtics opened up the season with the most condensed schedule in the entire NBA. They did play 39 games in 73 days, and that left them in survival mode for a few different reasons.

First and foremost, the team couldn’t practice – quite literally – for a month straight. The C’s convened for practice Saturday afternoon for the first time since Nov. 29. Since that date, they were forced to play 17 games in 28 days, taking their overall total to a league-high 39 games played.

That stretch also took a toll on the players’ bodies, as six different Celtics (Irving, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Shane Larkin and Semi Ojeleye) all missed games during December for one reason or another.

And the players who did take the court? Well, on some nights, they just didn’t look like themselves, as Brown admitted Saturday afternoon.

“Absolutely,” he replied after being asked if he saw a dip in the team’s energy level during December. “It was just some games, we didn’t have it.”

Still, somehow, Boston managed to rack up the top record in the East at 29-10. The C’s have the same number of losses (10) as second-place Toronto, but they have won five more wins. That stat alone tells the story of the team’s crazy schedule.

The good news for Boston is that its most arduous portion of the schedule is now in the rearview mirror. After playing its first 39 games in 73 days, it will play its final 43 games over 104 days.

“That,” as Kyrie Irving said with a grin Saturday afternoon, “is a hell of a difference.”

It sure is, and it will make a hell of a difference for the Celtics as well.

With far more off days over the next three-plus months, the they’re going to be far more rested – and, hopefully, far healthier – for their final 43 games of the season. With far more practice days, they’re going to be much sharper as well.

That’s a scary proposition for opponents.

But while the Celtics are excited to breathe from here on out, they also recognize that the obstacles they faced during their first 39 games have done nothing but strengthen them for the future. With every challenge came a lesson learned.

“I’m glad that we went through it early in the season,” Irving said. “I think it did some great things for us in terms of playing that many games.”

Irving commented that the team learned to communicate at a high level as a direct result of the condensed schedule.

“Just developing better communication in terms of during that stretch, with your teammates and coaching staff and everyone just in general,” he said. “Just being honest about how they feel about their bodies and understanding what they have to do in order to continue and prepare. Because when you have days where you get two days between a game, you take full advantage of it, because you understand what it’s like to not have any days.”

Brad Stevens, who has done an admirable job of maneuvering his team through its tough stretch of games, also learned a lot about his team that he otherwise may not have had its schedule been lighter.

“You just learn how you can adjust on the fly. You learn how you respond to certain situations,” he explained. “I haven’t been on many multiple-day stretches like we’ve been on the last few weeks, prior to yesterday where we had a day off. And to win the last two games of that told me a lot about the resolve that we’re capable of showing.”

Those two wins brought Boston’s total to 29 on the season, more than any other team in the league. Now, with a more manageable schedule ahead of them, the Celtics believe they will become an even greater threat as the season wears on.

“I think if we have the right approach,” said Brown, “it will be an upward tick for us and we’ll just continue to get better.”

The Celtics survived their first 39 games of the season. Now the question remains: Will their opponents be able to survive them moving forward?