Three days put C’s woes in fo­cus

Boston Herald - - SPORTS - Tom KEE­GAN Twit­ter: @TomKee­ganBos­ton

Three NBA games, two in­volv­ing the Celtics, in three days brought this foggy sea­son and the fu­ture of the Celtics into clearer fo­cus.

In those crazy three days, the Celtics blew leads of 18 and 28 points. In be­tween those col­lapses, Pel­i­cans su­per­star cen­ter An­thony Davis was benched for the fourth quar­ter of a game he was dom­i­nat­ing.

Those three games in­spired three in­escapable con­clu­sions:

First, the Celtics aren’t very good when Kyrie Irv­ing hogs the ball as he did in Thurs­day night’s fall-from­a­head loss to Le­Bron James’ Lak­ers.

Se­cond, Davis is very, very good, great even, and the Celtics, the Pel­i­cans and the NBA will be much bet­ter off if the teams can reach agree­ment on a trade that puts the NBA’s best cen­ter in a green jersey.

Third, de­spite a 7-2 record in games that Irv­ing sits out, the Celtics aren’t as good with­out him as they are with him, as long as he’s not in Stephon Mar­bury mode, turn­ing team­mates into spec­ta­tors by mo­nop­o­liz­ing the ball.

First con­clu­sions first. Irv­ing didn’t let get­ting his shot blocked de­ter him from re­peat­edly driv­ing to the hoop to get it blocked again in Thurs­day’s 129-128 loss to the Lak­ers in a game the Celtics led by 18 points. Irv­ing made just 6-of-21 shots from the field on a night he to­taled 24 points, seven re­bounds, eight as­sists, three turnovers and two steals.

The Celtics have too many ca­pa­ble scor­ers for any­one who’s not on fire to hoist 21 shots. In games Irv­ing puts up 20 shots or more, the Celtics are 8-9. When he takes fewer than 20 shots, the Celtics are 20-10.

Ball-hog apol­o­gists will point out that on a night the of­fense is stag­nant it’s only nat­u­ral that the best of­fen­sive player, the one who can cre­ate shots at will, has to try to bring the team back on his own. That’s true to a de­gree, but it doesn’t ex­plain such a wild dis­par­ity in the two records, and cer­tainly wasn’t the case in the de­ba­cle against the Lak­ers.

Jayson Ta­tum, Mar­cus Mor­ris and Al Hor­ford all know how to score when set up by a point guard as gifted at draw­ing mul­ti­ple de­fend­ers on drives to the hoop as Irv­ing is.

Not that Irv­ing couldn’t ben­e­fit from hav­ing a spec­tac­u­lar post player skilled at scor­ing in mul­ti­ple ways, which brings us to Davis. The shock­ing lack of lo­cal ex­cite­ment at the prospect of land­ing Davis in the off­sea­son, the best I can fig­ure, can be traced to an emo­tional hedge, peo­ple pro­tect­ing against get­ting their hopes be­ing el­e­vated and then crushed be­cause Le­Bron tends to get what Le­Bron wants and Le­Bron wants Davis. Who wouldn’t want him?

On Fri­day night, in 25 min­utes against the Tim­ber­wolves, Davis pro­duced 32 points, nine re­bounds and three blocked shots in a game the Pel­i­cans held on to win. The bench­ing was ex­plained af­ter­ward as him hav­ing reached his min­utes re­stric­tion of 25. A min­utes max­i­mum for a player com­ing off a fin­ger in­jury? Non­sense. The Pel­i­cans need to play him as many min­utes as nec­es­sary to give the team the best shot at win­ning, not to give them their best shot at pre­serv­ing his off­sea­son trade value by min­i­miz­ing his risk of in­jury. To do oth­er­wise would be to em­bar­rass the NBA. Davis broke the rules by de­mand­ing a trade, was fined $50,000, and the high road was wide open for the Pel­i­cans to travel. In­stead, they drove into a ditch.

The next night af­ter that fi­asco, Irv­ing was in sharethe-ball mode, mak­ing 4 of 7 shots to put the Celtics on course for a blowout. They led by as many as 28 points, Irv­ing sprained his knee, didn’t play the rest of the way and the Celtics lost by 11 points. For a change, they looked lost with­out him.

A deeper dig on the 7-2 record with­out Irv­ing in the lineup re­veals that seven of the games were at home and six were against teams with a los­ing record.

STU­ART CAHILL / BOS­TON HER­ALD

STUCK: Kyrie Irv­ing looks for room to ma­neu­ver against Shai Gil­geous-Alexan­der.

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