Despite being the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics have not come close to living up to expectations in the 2018-2019 season. Following last night’s 118-95 loss at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and with only 21 games remaining in the regular season, seem destined to open the playoffs on the road. After reaching game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving last season, every Celtics fan expected the team to advance to the NBA Finals with him back in the lineup this year. However, as the losses continue to pile up the question must be asked; are the Celtics better without Kyrie Irving?
If you ask Danny Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, “It’s completely illogical and makes no sense,” he said, “if you just look at the data over the last two years, our team is so much better — I mean, it wasn’t but a month ago we were trying to figure out, how in the world are we going to score without Kyrie on the court?” he went on to tell 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.(Quote via NBC Sports Boston)
There are statistics to back up Ainge’s claim. Celtics beat reporter, Chris Forsberg, pointed out on Twitter (@ChrisForsberg_) on February 14th that the Celtics had an offensive rating of 113.8 with Irving on the court vs a 105.0 without him. Additionally, they have a net rating of +8.9 with Irving and only a +1.8 without him. Irving is also the Celtics leader in minutes per game (32.7), points per game (23.5), and assists per game (6.9). With all that said, it would be easy to assume the Celtics couldn’t possibly be better off without him… right?
Wrong. Those statistics are great and all true but they do not tell the entire story. The game of basketball is just like any other sport, the goal is to win. Since he joined the team at the beginning of last season, the Celtics have flat out won more often without Irving than they have with him. Dating back to the beginning of last season, the Celtics have a 23-10 (69% winning percentage) record in games where Irving does not play as opposed to a 69-40 (63%) with him.
This season the numbers have been even more drastic. Irving has missed 11 games due to either injury or rest, and in those games, the Celtics are 9-2. Granted he has typically sat out against the weaker teams in the league when the team felt it was a good time to give him rest, but they don’t beat all those teams with him on the floor. In fact the Celtics are 6-0 in their last six games without Irving and 0-5 in their last five with him.
This past month has proven how much better off they would be if Irving left this summer in free agency. After injuring his knee in a 123-112 loss to the Clippers on February 9th, he missed games against the 76ers and Pistons, both of whom are currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Celtics also won both those games. Irving then played in the All-Star Game despite missing regular season games only days prior. Since the All-Star break, the Celtics are 0-3, all three games in which Irving has played. Those losses include games where Irving missed the potential game winning shot against the Bucks, lost by 10 to the Bulls (who have a record of 16-44), and lost to the Raptors by 23 points.
Irving is not the Celtics only problem this season. Jaylen Brown has taken a step back from his production last season, Gordon Hayward has looked like a shell of his former self while coming back from a broken leg, and the team chemistry isn’t where it was last year. Kyrie Irving is still a really good basketball player and is deserving of a max contract this coming summer. It isn’t too late to turn things around either. There are still 21 regular season games left and a run in the playoffs with Irving as a main contributor would go a long way in proving himself in the eyes of Celtics fans. However, for now, the question is legitimate, and the Celtics may very well be better off without Kyrie Irving.