BOSTON – When Kyrie Irving spoke for the first time as a Net on Media Day in September, he apologized to Celtics fans and to his former teammates and took the blame on himself for their second-round playoff failure last season. But Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said recently that it was his fault for putting pieces together that didn’t fit, and coach Brad Stevens absolved Irving of any blame on Wednesday night before the Celtics faced the Nets at TD Garden.
Irving was not in the building for what widely was expected to be a rude reaction from the fans because he missed his seventh straight game with a right shoulder impingement. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said there is no update on his condition, and it remains uncertain whether Irving will face the Celtics Friday at Barclays Center.
“We’ve said many times that whatever we didn’t achieve that we wanted to achieve as a team is on the team,” Stevens said. “It’s not for one person. That has been very well-documented. I’ve also said many times that I really enjoyed Kyrie and I wish him nothing but the best. I think that everybody that was on that team last year will be better because of that experience.”
Knowing that Irving was not expected to make the trip to Boston, fans posted flyers on poles near the arena that had Irving’s picture and the label “Coward.” There was another photo-shopped picture of him in costume labeled ‘Cowardly Lion.”
Asked about the outsized reaction that follows Irving, Stevens said, “Unfortunately, when you’re really, really good at something, the level of scrutiny is even higher. He’s one of the best players in the NBA. The level of scrutiny is unfair, but it comes with the territory of all those guys.
“I think that’s why it’s so important that we constantly remind ourselves of how good they are…He was second team all-NBA last year. He was ridiculous the year before. So, he’s a heck of a player, and he gets to choose where he wants to play, he gets to go home. That’s something that we all very much respect.”
The Nets’ Atkinson echoed Stevens’ sentiments about coaching Irving. “Exciting,” Atkinson said. “I really have enjoyed our relationship. I think we have great conversations. His work ethic is 10 out of 10. As great a player as he is, he’s better than I thought. He’s an extremely talented and competitive player that fits our style. I’ve been absolutely thrilled coaching him. Can’t wait until he’s back in the lineup…We’ll take another step up.”