WASHINGTON -- Kyrie Irving had just skillfully sidestepped a question about a questionable whistle that helped the Boston Celtics force Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards into overtime (where Boston scraped out an ugly triumph over a chief Eastern Conference foe) when Celtics’ PR chief Jeff Twiss called for the final question of the night.
“Kyrie, what did you think of Cleveland’s moves today?”
Irving took a moment to ponder the query about his former team, then shook his head a couple times and offered a half shrug before responding, “I’m in Boston.”
It’s certainly fair to wonder what Irving thinks watching his former squad navigate an extreme midseason makeover, especially when two of the players the Cleveland Cavaliers dealt away on Thursday (Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder) were part of the package that Boston sent Cleveland in August to obtain Irving.
But sticking with his preference since arriving in Boston, Irving didn’t want to discuss his former team. The Celtics maintained their grasp on the top spot in the East with a 110-104 triumph over the Wizards that prevented the Toronto Raptors from sneaking ahead of Boston for the first time this calendar year.
The Cavaliers, who sit 7.5 games back of the Celtics, visit Boston on Sunday and Irving will be inundated with more questions about Cleveland and its drama this season. It’s unlikely he’ll be any more willing to delve into the topic at that point.
No Irving is focused on the present and a Boston team that has just won its 40th game of the season . Yes, he sometimes lets his mind wander ahead -- saying Thursday morning how he often daydreams about a time when Gordon Hayward is healthy again and back on the court for the Celtics -- but rarely does he dwell on the past.
On a day the Cavaliers sent out six players and a pair of draft picks while bringing back four new faces, the Celtics sat quietly in the corner of the deadline swap meet and resisted the urge to jump in the fray. Boston formally signed free-agent center Greg Monroe but didn’t unlock the safe containing its pile of future draft assets while considering further bench upgrades.
The Celtics believe they have the talent necessary to compete now and don’t want to hinder their ability to be even more competitive further down the road (like when Hayward is back at full strength next season).
On Thursday, Irving wasn’t alone in his preference to avoid Cleveland chatter. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about the new-look Cavs and said that he’d wait until the weekend to turn his attention to the defending East champs.
Stevens had more pressing concerns, including how to integrate Monroe into the lineup. He said before the Wizard's game that he might not even play the 6-foot-11 big man, then tossed him on the court for 11 straight minutes in the first half.
Monroe finished with five points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in a shade less than 20 minutes. Monroe looked like a player thrown into the fire, and he even got a technical for arguing a call just minutes into his Celtics career. But it’s easy to see why Boston is intrigued by his skill set, and the boost he can give a second unit that began experimenting with different looks.
Despite the lack of trade activity, Monroe's arrival was met with positive reviews in Boston’s locker room.
“He’s the kind of guy that I can’t believe he fell through that way, for us to be able to get him,” Celtics All-Star big man Al Horford said. "So I’m happy that we got him and I feel like it’s going to pay off for our group. He’s going to make our team better. It’s just a matter of time.”
Monroe spent this past week learning the Boston playbook, but said his biggest challenge now is getting comfortable with the teammates that he has yet to practice with as a group. For his part, Monroe was asked whether he thinks Boston has enough talent to get back to the East finals this season.
"This is my first day here; I don’t want to make any predictions,” said a smiling Monroe. "Like I said, I know that’s the aspiration they have, getting back to the Eastern Conference finals and beyond. I’m happy to be a part of that. Like I said, I want just want to come in and be able to do whatever I can, enhance that, and help us all reach our goal.”
Irving scored a team-high 28 points in Thursday’s win. Boston kicked away a double-digit lead in the final five minutes of regulation but Markieff Morris was whistled for fouling Irving on a 3-point attempt with 9.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Irving made all three freebies to get the game to overtime.
Morris improbably fouled Irving on another 3-point attempt in the extra session then sounded off after the game.
"The first [call] was nowhere near a foul. I mean, [referee] Billy [Kennedy] was behind me. I don't know how could see me swiping down on the ball -- me hitting his arm,” said Morris. "If I hit his arms, there was no way he could get the shot up. The second was a foul. I can honestly admit to that. But the first one was nowhere near.”
Apprised of Morris’ comments, Irving wouldn't bite.
"That’s a setup,” he said with a laugh. "No, I’m good. I’m good. I’m glad I made my three free throws. Nothing against Markieff. I just don’t want to get into the whole whether it was a foul or not. I don’t want to get fined.”
Irving knows that no good could come from answering questions about the officiating. And no good could come from answering questions about the Cavaliers.
So Irving elected to just be content with Boston’s situation. The team is thriving in the present and the future is bright. On Thursday, there was no reason to dwell on the past.