CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kyrie Irving had been silent about Marcus Morris’s comments on the Celtics until Saturday. He left that demoralizing loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at halftime with a knee injury and hasn’t played since.
The Celtics won their final two games before the All-Star Break, including an impressive road win at Philadelphia. Irving said his knee is healthy enough to play in Sunday’s All-Star Game at Spectrum Center, then addressed the Celtics’ chemistry issues, namely Morris’s statements that the team isn’t that close and the season hasn’t been “fun for a while.”
“There was some truth into it,” Irving said at All-Star media day. “We obviously understand that we have a lot of talent in the locker room. So it’s been a lot to manage, but we’ve come out pretty successful. Obviously not as successful as we’d like to be, but that’s just overall the attitude you have to have to win in this league.
“You want to be one of the top teams in the East. You want to be one of the top teams in the whole entire league, having playoff position, enjoy the regular season, have fun. I’ve also played in other places, when I was in Cleveland in my beginning years. It wasn’t fun every single day. Things happen within the locker room and you just gotta move on, and the maturity of young players understanding that it’s just part of the business.”
Irving said it’s time for the players to understand, if they didn’t already, that the season is a struggle, regardless of the success.
“It’s not college. Nobody’s babying you and you guys [media] aren’t going to baby anybody, you’re not going to hold back your tongue or your words,” he said. “It’s OK to make mistakes. The judgments outside don’t really matter in terms of what you feel as yourself.”
Irving then shifted to his personal reputation and vaguely touched on his potential free-agent decision this summer.
“Nobody is going to validate who I am anymore,” he said. “I used to do it. I struggled with it. Just mentally, really figuring out how powerful words are and what they mean to me, and honestly, nobody could tell me who I’m going to be anyway. Once I started believing that, all of this just became a lot easier.
“There’s some truth in [Morris’s comments] in terms of our team, but understanding the overall big picture is the only thing that matters when it comes to these NBA locker rooms and set goals for yourself.”
Peace in their pairing
While Irving responded “none of your business” when asked about mending his relationship with LeBron James, James expounded on that phone call from Irving last month and said the two settled any differences.
“I’ve always loved Kyrie, from before I met him to when I became his teammate to even now,” James said. “I’ve always thought he was special. There’s a reason why there are only 24 of us here this weekend. He’s here for a reason.
“The phone call — more than for me, I think just to see his growth. It takes a real man and a real person to understand who they are, to be able to call or to do anything and be able to see their wrongdoings or believe they have some wrongdoings, and then be able to come to grips with that and be able to either apologize or say that, ‘At that point in time, I thought I was ready for something, but I really wasn’t.’ ”
James said all is now well with Irving.
“I really don’t want to talk about it too much because it’s not for everybody,” he said. “It’s not for the media to be able to start writing things, and how you guys like to do it. I love Kyrie. I love everything about Kyrie. I’ve loved his family. I definitely love his shoes and his game, and my kids love his shoes and his game too. So it’s all good.”
Tatum flashes Skills
Jayson Tatum knew he couldn’t let 3-point specialist Trae Young get a clean look in the Skills Challenge, so he decided to launch a 50-footer with the hopes of perhaps knocking Young’s ball off the mark.
Instead, his shot went in.
The 20-year-old Tatum kept his promise of winning his first Skills Challenge by beating Atlanta’s Young in the final with that half-court shot, stunning the fans and completing a successful All-Star Weekend.
The Skills Challenge is a two-man competition where players dribble the length of the floor, pass through a target, run the court to attempt a layup, then race back to the other end of the court to attempt a 3-pointer. The first player to make the 3 wins.
The speedy 6-foot-1-inch Young raced way ahead of the 6-8 Tatum and released his ball just behind the 3-point line. Tatum, trailing by about 20 feet, fired.
“ I didn’t know I was going to make a shot,” he said. “I just had to give myself a chance and throw it up there and it worked out for the best.”
Tatum fell behind in each of his first two rounds, against Memphis guard Mike Conley and Denver center Nikola Jokic. Each missed their 3-point try before Tatum canned his.
The second-year pro scored 30 points in Team USA’s win in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge before becoming the first Celtic winner in the 17-year history of the Skills Challenge.
“My mom likes to steal all my trophies and past jerseys,” Tatum said. “She has all my Duke jerseys and state championships. So I’ll let her get this one, too.”
The Skills Challenge was sponsored by a national Mexican fast food chain. With Tatum nicknamed “Taco Jay” because of his love for them, is an endorsement coming?
“I’m going to call [the company] tomorrow and tell them I need a deal,” he said.
Also Saturday, Brooklyn’s Joe Harris was a surprising winner over Stephen Curry in the final of the 3-Point Shootout, and Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo stole the show in winning the dunk contest, during which he leaped over 7-1 Shaquille O’Neal and revealed a Superman shirt beneath his jersey.
Irving said he wasn’t sure if he would play in the World Cup in China, which begins Aug. 31. Irving participated for Team USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the US has used mostly teams made up of G-League players for World Cup qualifiers since. Irving attended last summer’s Team USA minicamp, but did not participate because he was recovering from knee surgery.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” he said. “Honestly I’m not too sure right now. I’m not too sure.”
Even if Irving doesn’t participate in the World Cup, that wouldn’t disqualify him from making the 2020 Tokyo Games.