As the Celtics get ready for Game 3 against the Pacers, a few sure-to-be contested looks at specific players’ performances so far …
Kyrie Irving: We already knew what Playoff Kyrie already looks like.
We saw it before against the Celtics, most astoundingly when he scored 42 points on 15-of-22 shooting (while being guarded by the dogged Avery Bradley) in Game 4 of the 2016-17 Eastern Conference Finals.
He was as unstoppable as unstoppable can be in that pivotal game — 21 of his points came in the third quarter, with the Cavs overcoming a 16-point deficit. He also has a 41-point game to his credit in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, and stuck the winning shot in Steph Curry’s eye late in Game 7 of that series.
Playoff Kyrie is a marvel of aesthetics and production. Wednesday, we finally got to see Playoff Kyrie in the right uniform, dropping a 37-point masterpiece on the Pacers that often felt like a single-handed effort in the early minutes.
I don’t know if he’s a long-term Celtic. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a beloved Celtic, or even if he’s interested in being one.
But he’s one of the most electrifying Celtics I’ve ever seen. Sure do hope we get to witness Playoff Kyrie in green and white for much more than a fleeting performance or two.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum: I’m pairing them up here because that’s what we did all season whenever we lamented that the “young guys’’ needed to play better.
Well, they were pretty excellent the other night in the comeback. Tatum had 26 points — say, maybe Playoff Tatum is a thing, given that the Celtics might have bounced the Cavs last year had they not forgotten to get him the ball late in Game 7 — while Brown played a fine all-around game, including feeding Tatum for a late 3 that was probably the biggest shot of the game.
One of my frustrations this season with the Celtics is that the ball stagnated in part because Tatum and Brown aren’t consistently reliable or deft passers yet. That pass to Tatum might have been the best one I’ve ever seen Brown make in his three seasons.
It was also a moment where believing in both of them was rewarded with an outstanding combined play to set up the shot and knock it down.
I know they’ve been frustrating at times this year. But it’s situations like that one where maybe you’re not so sure you’d want to see both of them go for Anthony Davis.
Al Horford: Your perception of his Game 3 probably depends on your long-standing feelings about Horford. He’s a strangely polarizing player, though I think he’s grown more appreciated in each of his three seasons with the Celtics.
Still, his detractors might complain about his scoreless first three quarters, fingering him for a complicit role in the double-digit deficit the Celtics took into the fourth quarter.
His supporters will note he was ill and nearly did not play, recharged himself and scored the Celtics’ first two buckets to ignite their fourth-quarter comeback, altered the game with his rebounding and blocked shots, and is just the kind of selfless, subtle and smart player who would have been called a quintessential, true Celtic in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
I stand with the latter group. You probably figured that, huh?
Terry Rozier: I know he was a team-best plus-19 in Game 2. That doesn’t make him any less aggravating to watch in what long ago became whatever the opposite of a contract drive is called. (A reverse contract drive, I guess? A contract stall?)
He was excellent until he wasn’t in last year’s postseason. And plus/minus be damned, he’s been ineffective in this series too, shooting just 3 of 11, with his one made 3 on five attempts coming on a last-second heave in which a couple of teammates looked annoyed when he looked off Gordon Hayward up ahead.
Is it too late to trade him to the Anadolu Efes for Shane Larkin? When is the Turkish Basketball Super League trade deadline?
Marcus Morris: He needs to shoot well to have value, because pretty much all he does when the ball comes his way is launch it rim-ward with varying degrees of success.
He was effective in Game 1 (20 points on 5 of 12 shooting), but went scoreless on eight shots in Game 2. That puts him at 25 percent shooting through the two games, which isn’t what you’re looking for there.
His toughness is an asset — it wouldn’t shock me if he came up big in Indiana — but it would be helpful if he had a semblance of a conscience in the playoffs.
Too often, he reminds me of a 1990s Knick. I did not enjoy the 1990s Knicks, and I hope he doesn’t derail our enjoyment of the 2019 Celtics.