Why Kyrie Irving plans to sit out some games before playoffs
PHILADELPHIA — There are 10 games left in the Celtics’ regular season following Wednesday night’s 118-115 loss to the 76ers, and Kyrie Irving has indicated he won’t be playing in all of those games regardless of the Celtics’ seeding.
Boston has an outside chance to catch the 76ers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference and most definitely would like to pass the Indiana Pacers for fourth, ensuring home-court advantage in the first round of a potential series with the Pacers.
Irving, though, believes health and rest is more important and seeding comes secondary, especially since the Celtics have been so inconsistent and wasted a chance to compete with Milwaukee and Toronto for the No. 1 seed.
“I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” he said. “Just makes no sense to put emphasis on these regular-season games when you know you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”
When asked if home-court advantage mattered, Irving said: “As long as we get in there, I don’t think our focus was getting seeding. That’s pretty clear. As long as we get there, I’m happy.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he hasn’t established a schedule of games off for Irving but believes the club has enough depth to try to win all of its games, regardless of lineups.
In need of focus
Irving, who scored 36 points against the 76ers, added that the Celtics are not close to playoff ready, despite the postseason being three weeks away.
“We need more focus and discipline in order for that switch to be turned on,” he said. “So we have to figure out what that switch is for us for the postseason, so that’s why we have 11 games left.”
In the past Irving has pointed to the 2015-16 Cavaliers as an example of a team that turned hot when the playoffs began. That team finished the regular season 13-8 and lost three of their final four games before winning their first 10 playoff games en route to the championship.
“I think the best thing we had going in that aspect was experience,” Irving said. “We [knew] what that switch is. This [Celtics] team doesn’t. The best thing for us is experience. Guys have a year of experience and I think we’ve given ourselves too much credit for what that switch is — championship-level basketball — and only a few people know what that switch is. It takes time to develop it and experience with each other.
“We’ve tried to make up as much ground in the last year and a half as we could. I think a lot of other teams in the league have had a lot more time to develop and be around each other and have a future to build for. Here, we’ve tried to make it up for the last year and a half with what can we possibly do for this year, that’s where we are.”
Hayward stays home
Gordon Hayward (concussion protocol) remained in Boston and was scheduled to be examined Wednesday following a workout session on Tuesday. Hayward has to be symptom-free for 24 hours before he will be cleared to return. Hayward ran into a hard screen by Atlanta’s John Collins on Saturday and left the game with what was called a neck strain. But he was diagnosed with a concussion and missed Monday’s loss to the Nuggets.
Stevens said the hope is Hayward can join the club for Saturday’s matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.
“It’s really unique to his career because he’s missed very few games coming into his time here [in Boston],” Stevens said of Hayward. “Hopefully, you never rush him back from this; it has to be cleared from the league. It’s not a ton of games [he’s missing] as it stands now. He’s got plenty of time to regain that rhythm, given that he gets back soon.”
Al Horford, who has been nursing knee soreness, was in the Celtics starting lineup and finished with 22 points in 34:54 of playing time. Stevens said the team also has planned off days for Horford down the regular-season stretch.
The Celtics are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating. But after allowing 140 points to the Clippers, and consecutive 120-point games to the Kings and Hawks last week, Stevens said he just doesn’t believe it.
The Celtics are 15th in defensive rating since March 1.
“We need to show ourselves better in that regard,” Stevens said. “I still can’t believe where we’re ranked. That’s not what my eyes tell me. I don’t think we’re as good of a defense as our ranking. That’s something that we really need to improve on in the next month.”
76ers on a mission
While the Celtics are just trying to find consistency and position themselves for home-court advantage, the 76ers were just trying to prove they can beat the Celtics. They entered Wednesday night’s game 2-10 against the Celtics since last season, including the playoffs, and 3-21 since the 2014-15 season, when the 76ers were beginning their rebuilding “process.”
The 76ers considered this a big game and coach Brett Brown did not deny the importance, especially psychologically.
“There is a little bit of that,” Brown said before tipoff. “To overdramatize it doesn’t interest me but there’s a little bit of [psychological importance]. The building is going to be great. The building is going to be loud. It’s going to be Philadelphia and it happens that we’re playing an Eastern Conference rival, a historical rival in the Boston Celtics. I think the atmosphere is going to be off the charts and we need it.”