As much as the Indiana Pacers weren’t exactly the most talented offensive team, a four-game sweep in the first round wouldn’t have been possible for the Celtics without Kyrie Irving. Boston still might’ve won the series, but it wouldn’t have been a lock. No one else can garner the attention Irving does, never mind perform consistently at a high level under such pressure.
Irving is a star. Stars have to elevate their game in the playoffs, in the NBA above all other leagues. Everyone knows that; which is why Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas’ recent comments are so strange.
While appearing on ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith show on Tuesday, Thomas expressed the Celtics need Irving more than the Bucks need Giannis Antetokounmpo. In true Thomas fashion, he found a way to turn that statement into a backhanded compliment.
“I look at what Kyrie is doing during these playoffs and you have to say that the lessons that he learned in Cleveland from playing with LeBron James, statistically, he’s playing a very similar game to the way that LeBron played,” Thomas told Smith. “In terms of not only being the shot-maker, but also being the facilitator and being the ball-dominant person, deciding on each and every offensive possession who gets the shots, who takes the shot and where it’s taken from. And that’s how LeBron James played with him, that actually frustrated him for a long period of time and why he wanted to move and have his own team.
“And now that he has his own team, he’s playing a very similar game and style to the way LeBron James played, in terms of dominating the ball. And you look at the statistical numbers that he’s put up he’s having his best playoff series because of the way he’s chosen to play and it’s actually benefited Boston, in my opinion, the way Kyrie Irving is playing.”
In looking at James’ final two postseason runs with the now-Boston point guard (2016 and 2017 NBA Playoffs), Thomas is pretty spot-on with his statistical assessment. James averaged 19.9 and 21.3 shot attempts, respectively, and 7.6 and 7.8 assists per game, respectively. Against Indy, Irving hoisted 18.8 shots a night and logged 7.8 assists per game.
Now, it’s been portrayed that part of the reason Irving wanted to get out from under James was he believed he was capable of leading a team to the promised land. That requires Irving to up his game from the regular season — and of course, take on a larger role than he had Cleveland. So, for Irving to alter his approach and bear more of a load isn’t ludicrous.
And as much as Irving doesn’t bring up the ball every time, he’s still a point guard. Doesn’t it make sense he facilitates more often than anyone else?
This seems like a way for Thomas to take a jab at Irving and let him know he still has a lot to learn.