‘That’s why he’s special’: Behind the scenes of Kyrie Irving’s late-night Miami workout
MIAMI — When the Celtics are being pummeled as they were for much of Thursday’s game against the Heat, assistant coach Jerome Allen tries to pull something from the otherwise messy night that could ignite a sliver of optimism. In this 115-99 loss, Allen was encouraged by how Boston had quickly sliced a 26-point third-quarter deficit to just 8. There were moments in that stretch that could be used as teaching moments, he thought.
So after the game Allen went to the locker room intending to tell point guard Kyrie Irving, who had been on the court for the duration of the comeback and is one of the players Allen is assigned to work with, what he saw. But Irving was not there.
Allen was told by a team staffer that Irving had gone to the Heat’s practice facility for another workout, and he wanted Allen and video coordinator Tony Dobbins to join him.
“We’re in Miami,” Allen said Friday. “Guys are thinking about going to South Beach, and the restaurants, and going out and walking around, and he was thinking about the next play and how can he be better? How can he be efficient? And I actually thought he had a pretty big game, but that just goes to show you that his standard is supreme. And maybe that’s why he’s special.”
It is uncommon for a player to be granted access to another team’s practice court, but Irving is an uncommon player. Allen said Miami has a reputation for being a “buttoned-up” organization, but that a member of the team’s operations staff was happy to accommodate Irving.
The point guard was wearing his sneakers, game shorts, and an undershirt when he dribbled a basketball down a dim corridor in the bowels of American Airlines Arena.
During the 30-minute session, Allen said, several young Heat players walked through the gym, perhaps to get a glimpse of one of the most famous players in the world as he gave an example of what separates him from most others.
“I’m quite sure that from the security to some of the Heat guys that were there, they were like, ‘Damn, that’s Kyrie Irving for a reason,’ ” Allen said. “For those guys to witness his approach and see him in an all-out sweat postgame, I think if they weren’t a fan of his as a kid or beforehand, they might be now, having witnessed that.”
Allen said the family of one Heat player waited patiently for Irving to complete his workout before asking to take pictures with him, and Irving obliged. Irving also had several friends and family members of his own at the game, but he did not rush to see them.
“And his only concern was being a pro and working on his craft in the moment, and not waiting on a day to pass,” Allen said. “I feel kind of unworthy just getting the opportunity to have a seat on the front row.”
Irving said he has completed these postgame shooting sessions before, but this was certainly the first one during his two seasons as a Celtic that became public knowledge. Allen declined to say how often the workouts have occurred, saying he would leave that to Irving to reveal if he wished, but he said there is a clear purpose to them.
They work on finding different angles to attack, or Allen asks Irving where he would like his teammates to be positioned on a certain play, or he asks what has gone wrong in those instances in the past. They will consider his balance and movement and posture. Sometimes, Allen said, they communicate with simple nods or shakes of the head.
“Just imitating things that the defense was doing to me and the pressure they were putting on me, and the opportunities I didn’t take advantage of,” Irving said Thursday. “I just want to feel good about it. It’s just good to get some shots up, just release some stress a little bit . . . It’s just therapeutic.”
By the time Irving returned to the visitors’ locker room after his workout, his teammates had all departed. Sure, the session benefited Irving, and the Celtics staff is hopeful moments like that can also rub off on the younger players.
“Kyrie is committed,” president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Friday, “and I think it sends a loud message to everybody that he’s so committed. He works on his game, and it matters.”
Although Irving’s teammates were not in the gym with him, Allen was. The assistant coach said he does not take the opportunity for granted. Sometimes, he said, he finds himself just watching in awe like everyone else.
“I’ve got a 9-year-old son who thinks he’s going to be the first third-grader ever to be drafted in the NBA,” Allen said with a chuckle. “So I try to put stuff in my memory bag to steal for my son. Trust me, there’s nothing I can steal. Kyrie’s talent is truly one of a kind, but I’m going to try as hard as I can.”
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Ainge said he is not concerned about the minor altercation involving Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown in the second quarter of Boston’s loss to the Heat Thursday.
The incident occurred during a timeout with 7 minutes 12 seconds left in the second quarter. In a video posted on Instagram by a fan who was sitting behind Boston’s bench, Morris was seen shoving Brown with two hands. Brown did not react, and teammates quickly got between them before the situation escalated.
“It’s two good kids that are competitive,” Ainge said by phone from Boston Friday. “They both want the same thing. Emotions happen in games, and I’m not worried about it.”
It appeared Morris had become frustrated by Brown’s lack of effort during a play that preceded the timeout. Brown missed a pair of shots inside, and then slowly jogged back as the Heat quickly attacked for an easy basket. Morris looked at Brown and clapped his hands at him in frustration.
Both players had left the locker room Thursday before the video began to circulate.
“I have not talked with them about it and haven’t really heard anything from anyone about it,” Ainge said, “so I don’t really feel a need to intervene.”