CHICAGO — All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving missed the Celtics’ 105-89 victory over the Bulls on Monday night because of a sore left knee. Coach Brad Stevens said Irving aggravated the knee during the Celtics’ 123-120 loss to the Rockets on Saturday.
“I just want to make sure I’m as healthy as possible,” Irving said. “At this point in the season it’s just about the big picture. I’m just trying to stay smart and kind of get out of my own way, and when it feels good, just get back out there.”
Irving has missed games this season due to bruised quadriceps, a sore shoulder, and a facial fracture, but this will be the first time he is sidelined with a knee issue.
In January, Cleveland.com reported that Irving will eventually need minor knee surgery as a follow up to the 2015 procedure he underwent to repair a broken kneecap. That report stated that Irving actually threatened to sit out this season to undergo surgery if the Cavaliers did not trade him. Irving later rebuffed that report, but Monday alluded to his 2015 procedure.
“Just been about two years coming off knee surgery, so when you have to do things like [sit out] and stay on top of it and make sure you’re doing the right thing, sometimes it may be a little extra, just from the demand you put on your body,” he said. “And then also the realization of how much basketball you’ve actually been playing for the last few years and the level in which you demand your body to play at.
“It’s just part of the game. I think that’s the luxury of being in the regular season and having times where you can kind of put yourself first and take care of yourself and just kind of go from there.”
Stevens said Irving has been dealing with knee soreness at times this season, and added that the Celtics would err on the side of caution. Irving said “in the big picture” it was a bit easier sitting out knowing that the Celtics have essentially locked up at least a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but that reality does not help the competitor in him.
“In terms of how badly I want to play, I think that’s just a thing I deal with,” he said.
Still, it is clear the Celtics will be cautious with their star guard as the playoffs approach. Stevens said it is possible Irving could be out for the rest of the week, but he said the guard had not undergone an MRI.
“The other night it was more [sore] than it had been,” Stevens said. “But he’ll have moments, with as much load as he carries all year, where he has increased soreness. But he’s done a really good job of managing it, and at the end of the day though, felt more sore, more stiff today.”
In a bit of a surprise decision, Shane Larkin was tabbed to start in place of Irving. Larkin had played a total of just 22 minutes over the last four games after missing the previous 10 contests with a sore knee.
Stevens said he elected to go with Larkin mostly because he was reluctant to break up Boston’s thriving bench unit that includes Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.
“The bench is playing so good,” Stevens said. “I don’t want to mess with that. Obviously we’ll do it game by game, matchup to matchup if Kyrie misses more games, but we want to keep that bench group together as much as possible.”
Larkin entered Monday averaging 3.4 points and 1.1 assists per game this season. Against the Bulls, he had 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 16 minutes.
“The thing about Shane I really like is the way he can pressure the basketball,” Stevens said. “We’ve talked about that, how he can help direct the tempo, change the tempo.”
“You never know what coach is going to do,” Larkin said. “I’ve been ready all year for whatever situation has been thrown at me.”
Celtics forward Al Horford on Monday passed the 10,000-point mark for his career.
“A lot of years in the league,” said Horford, who had 13 points and 7 rebounds against the Bulls. “Year 11, so that’s what happens when you play a lot of years.”
Stevens was less modest.
“Quite an accomplishment, obviously, for a guy who scoring doesn’t matter to,” he said. “I think that says it all.
“He’s going to have his nights where he scores the ball. He’s going to have nights where he doesn’t get as many looks because of the way they’re guarding him, and he doesn’t care. He’ll just do whatever it takes to win.”
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