The Boston Celtics were the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference and, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returning from last year’s conference finals squad, many thought they were the team best suited to challenge the Warriors for a title.
The regular season was an up-and-down grind that didn’t go according to plan, but the hope was they’d find a switch in the playoffs. A sweep of the Pacers in the first round seemed to indicate they maybe had another gear, but even that was a hard fought series that felt far more competitive than most sweeps. In Game 1 of their second round series with Milwaukee, they shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, and again appeared to at least have the defense capable of a deep playoff run.
In the three games since, things have not been pretty for the Celtics, as they’ve dropped three straight to the Bucks, who have seemingly figured out how to attack their defense and Boston has not been able to keep up offensively. One of their main problems on that end of the floor has been the play of Kyrie Irving, the team’s lone All-Star and the man that proclaimed during their regular season struggles they would be fine simply because of his presence.
For a portion of the playoffs, that seemed to be the case, but a 19-for-62 stretch over the last three games has led to questions for Irving and the Celtics moving forward. They will undoubtedly need him to break this spell that saw him go 7-for-22 from the floor in a disappointing 113-101 loss in Game 4, but Irving doesn’t seem too concerned and thinks part of his problem in Game 4 was not shooting enough.
This is the mentality of every great offensive player, but the question for Irving and Boston’s offense moving forward will be whether they can get him better quality looks at the basket. Few players, if any, are better at converting tough looks at the rim than Irving, but the Bucks have been happy to let him try contested floaters and fading midrange jumpers this series. Irving was 1-of-6 from three-point range in Game 4 and 1-of-6 on two-point shots outside the restricted area.
Given the shortcomings of many of his teammates, the Celtics need an aggressive Irving, but it has to be to create better opportunities. If he can’t and the players around him can’t knock down open shots he helps create for them, the Celtics will likely start their offseason very soon and have some soul-searching to do — and wonder if Irving will be coming back.
Whatever the case in Game 5, expect Irving to have a high volume shooting night. Whether that’s highly productive or not may determine if they come back to Boston for a Game 6.