Asked what’s keeping Boston from being the team that so many expected entering the season, star point guard Kyrie Irving was blunt in his assessment.
“Experience,” Irving told reporters. “We’re lacking it, and because of that we have a lot of learning to do.”
The Celtics were considered by many to be the front-runners to win an Eastern Conference now without LeBron James. Instead, they’re 25-17 at the midpoint of the regular season, good for fifth place in the East.
Just two players on the current Celtics roster have won NBA titles — Irving with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and Aron Baynes with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Speaking from familiarity, Irving said the Celtics need to do the little things now if they want to get to an NBA Finals in the future.
“I know from the majority of fact that we’re better than most teams in this league,” he said. “It’s just going out and proving it every single night and demanding it and actually showing it. So until we do that every single night and realize our depth is a positive and all the wishes and could haves and should have done that, once that goes out the window, then we’ll be better. But until then, we’re going to keep having these ups and downs and these lulls of going against teams on the road and they just know they can take advantage of us down the stretch, or when this group is or that group is out.”
After four straight wins, Boston opened a three-game road trip Thursday night with a 115-99 loss to the Miami Heat. Video shot by a fan from that game showed Celtics veteran Marcus Morris get in a brief altercation on the bench with third-year forward Jaylen Brown.
Morris downplayed the incident Saturday, saying they’ve both moved past it.
Against the Magic, Irving appeared frustrated with teammate Gordon Hayward, who inbounded the ball to Jayson Tatum with 2.9 seconds to play. Tatum missed a baseline jumper that would have tied the game.
“Next question,” Irving said when asked about his reaction. “J.T. got a good look so let’s move on.”
Both incidents were the latest examples of an apparent lack of cohesion within the Celtics — one that didn’t appear to be on the 2017-18 team, which reached the East finals, losing to James’ Cavaliers in seven games.
Asked the difference between those Celtics and these, Irving’s answer was simple.
“We had nothing to lose last year,” he said. “Nobody had any expectations.. … We come into this season with expectations, and it’s real. … That’s new, it’s tough, and it’s hard.
“What we’re facing now is nothing compared to being on that stage trying to get a gold trophy. It’s hard now, what do you think it’s going to be when we get to the Finals?
“We can’t be comfortable being a fifth (seed). I’m not comfortable with it.”