After Kyrie Irving carved up the Pacers defense and tallied 37 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds in the Celtics’ 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday, he said he found the entire experience to be pretty peaceful.
On Thursday morning, with more time to digest Irving’s command performance, coach Brad Stevens had another description.
“He was amazing,” Stevens said. “He’s a special player, not only the scoring but then also drawing two [defenders], just trusting his teammates and making the next right pass on several occasions. Especially late in the game, I thought he was really, really good.
“As far as like an extra purpose or added purpose, I just think he lives for getting a chance to play in the playoffs and getting a chance to play on these stages. All the great ones do.”
The Celtics have followed Irving’s lead this season both on and off the court, through the good and the bad. When Irving has been disconnected or even moody, it has rubbed off on others. When he has been engaged and seemingly in a good place — as he has appeared to be for the last month or so — his teammates feed off that, too.
Stevens was asked if he thinks Irving seems quite happy now.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” he said. “And I think that goes for the whole team.
“In a lot of ways, it was not an easy year. And yet we still managed to be a reasonable team that achieved some things. Not what we had hoped, not what the outside had hoped.
“But I think that last Tuesday [when the regular season ended] gave us a reset. And I think our guys are all excited about that.”
For the Celtics, Irving’s contentment will be especially important in the coming months, as he decides whether he wants to commit to this franchise long-term. It is easier to feel good during playoff wins, of course, so it will be worth watching how Irving handles the situation when the competition becomes more difficult, and if things turn sour.
Irving, for one, knows that new challenges will be waiting Friday night, when the series shifts to Indiana.
“Now it’s about going on the road and doing the same thing and playing with the intensity that’s needed to get a big-time win on the road,” he said. “So that’s where the big test comes.
“Here, we’ve got our families, we’ve got everybody here supporting us, rooting us on. Now when we go to Indiana, it’s the total opposite, where it’s just us in the trenches. We’re out there and we’ve really got to focus.”
Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who is sidelined indefinitely with a left oblique tear, returned to the bench Wednesday for the first time since suffering his injury. And Stevens, for one, was glad to have him nearby.
“I love having him out there,” said Stevens. “He’s loud, you can hear him, and he’s always engaged. And you can tell when he’s not around.
“Obviously we prefer him to be in uniform and playing so he can use all of his physical abilities and his voice, but the next-best thing is him on the bench with his voice. And I thought he was really . . . he has a great vibe about him. He helps you regardless of if he’s playing or not.”
The Celtics held a 48-36 rebounding edge in Game 2 and limited the Pacers to just four offensive rebounds. That will remain a focus moving forward.
“We don’t rebound, we’re in trouble,” Stevens said. “I think we know that. It has to be an emphasis.
“It’s one of those things, we’ve played 84 games now, we can’t go out and do war rebounding drills in practice. It has to be a conscious choice to stay in the play, to engage on block-outs, to pursue the ball if you aren’t engaged. And it has to be every possession.”