Kyrie Irving on defense in the NBA: ‘There’s no defense. There’s just none’
CHARLOTTE — Kyrie Irving is a prolific scoring point guard who dropped 43 points on the Toronto Raptors on Friday, and he had kudos for counterpart Kemba Walker of Charlotte for scoring 60 against Philadelphia on Saturday and then 43 on the Celtics Monday. Walker then scored 43 in Monday night’s 117-112 win over the Celtics.
Yet, he has a theory why the NBA is seeing all these high-scoring games. Klay Thompson scored 52 two weeks ago in Chicago. LeBron James ran up 51 on Miami on Sunday. Scoring in the NBA is soaring.
The Milwaukee Bucks lead the NBA in offense at 121.1 points per game. Last year, the Golden State Warriors led the league at 113.5.
Irving believes that’s why teams like the Celtics, Warriors, Rockets, and other highly touted clubs are struggling in the early going.
NBA players have scored 40 or more points in a game 22 times this season, including six of 50 or more.
“I think not a lot of defense is being played,” he said prior to the game. “Teams are scoring like it’s the 1960s or ’70s. It’s 132 to 112, 142 to 121. There’s no defense. There’s just none. We got into a Utah-Boston game and it’s [98-86] and you can see the difference in effort in every single night, which I get from an NBA player’s standpoint, the amount of games we play, but sometimes you have to make guys miss.
“We’re all NBA players and if you see an open look at the rim, I’m pretty sure we’re going to knock it down over 50 percent of the time if it’s wide open. More or less no defense and effort. That’s what it comes down to; nobody should be scoring that many points.”
Irving was adamant about crediting the skill of the offensive players but he said defense have to react accordingly.
“You have to give credit to the offensive players for making the shots but also I think the emphasis on making double-teaming and just getting the ball out of someone’s hands,” he said. “Just doing the little things to help your teammates guard a great player or a great team, just a total team effort and team collective activity to kind of limit those high scoring games.”
After keeping quiet about his starting lineup until he absolutely had to, Celtics coach Brad Stevens decided to start Aron Baynes on Monday against Charlotte and bring Gordon Hayward off the bench. Hayward told the Globe last week he would be willing to play in a reserve role if it meant team success.
Hayward, who privately wasn’t thrilled with the move, tied his season-low Monday with 4 points in 31 minutes.
“Pretty simple, just trying to figure out a way we can be more successful,” Hayward said after the game. “I’m OK with anything that will help us right. Right now, I’ve got to focus in myself and getting myself better, being a better basketball player.”
Quiet on Cleveland
As much as he has tried to close the door on his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving keeps getting drawn in with questions about his unceremonious departure.
In a recent story in The Athletic, James said that Irving’s trade to the Celtics marked the “beginning of the end” of James’ tenure in Cleveland.
James returns to Cleveland on Wednesday for the first time since signing with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Nah, I think I’m done commenting on anything in Cleveland or anything that would be disrespectful,” Irving said. “Because I feel like at this point, where I’m at in my career, where I want to be, it seems like, not a distant memory but it’s just I’m appreciative of the lessons I’ve learned and I’m just ready to move forward, so . . .”
The Celtics had nearly 48 hours before their game with the Hornets to reflect on Stevens’s comments challenging their toughness. After Saturday’s disheartening 98-86 loss to the Utah Jazz, Stevens said his players have to respond to adversity better. Players put their heads down or looked discouraged after missed shots several times.
The Celtics were 5 for 33 from the 3-point line, 1 for 17 in the second half.
“I don’t really call it adversity, I just feel like we’re losing a couple of games,” forward Marcus Morris said. “It’s like we’ve got to figure this out. All that not tough enough and all that, I’m mean, I guess.”
The Celtics were coming off a motivating win the night before against the rival Raptors and then responded with one of their worst performances of the season.
“We missed some shots, obviously the way to bounce back is to look forward to the next game,” Morris said. “That’s the beauty of having 82 games, where you get to the next one. We lost. They played well, we missed shots.”