Kyrie Irving was eager to get back to work on Tuesday night after missing the Boston Celtics’ Sunday win over the Toronto Raptors thanks to the facial fracture he suffered during Boston’s Friday win over the Charlotte Hornets. So eager, in fact, that he opted to go back into the fray against the Brooklyn Nets with that “minor” facial fracture protected only by a thin layer of plastic.
As Irving explained before the game, wearing a face mask during an NBA game — as he did nearly five years ago as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, popping for a then-career-high 41 points at Madison Square Garden — is mostly a “mind over matter” type of situation:
Will Kyrie Irving have any apprehension tonight? "No. It's just accepting that you have a broken face and then going about your business."
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) November 14, 2017
Evidently, though, Irving did mind the covering during the Celtics’ meeting with the Nets, and the awkward and uncomfortable protective gear sure did seem to matter to the four-time All-Star:
Top of the key 3 from Kyrie forces a Nets timeout four minutes into the game, and he can't wait to get that freaking mask off. pic.twitter.com/AMnMMAMhh4
Irving’s discomfort with this particular mask was obvious early, and it persisted throughout:
— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) November 15, 2017
Kyrie Irving just ripped off the mask and readjusted it on his face. Earlier, he said he hates playing with a mask.
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) November 15, 2017
Hey Kyrie how do you feel about the mask? pic.twitter.com/LFrvvr7E6d
— John #TeamTito Karalis (@RedsArmy_John) November 15, 2017
Kyrie hates his mask more than I’ve ever seen any NBA player hate anything during a game except for maybe Bird hating Laimbeer.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 15, 2017
Kyrie just took his mask off again
— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) November 15, 2017
He might murder that damn mask by the end of the night. https://t.co/OZrYTqhqIs
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) November 15, 2017
Irving powered through his clear discomfort and produced, pouring in a game-high 25 points on 8-for-20 shooting — including seven in the final four minutes — to lead the Celtics in a 109-102 win that extended Boston’s NBA-best winning streak to 13 games, and improved Boston’s NBA-best record to 13-2.
— NBA (@NBA) November 15, 2017
Winning feels good. That doesn’t mean Kyrie’s face does, though.
Kyrie is asked how his face feels. “It’s broken.”
— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) November 15, 2017
After the game, Irving — who added five assists, three rebounds and a steal in 29 minutes of work in his return — explained why he chose to go with a clear plastic mask this time around as opposed to the black mask he rocked during his high-scoring game at MSG. Part of it likely has to do with the NBA not liking its players wearing black masks when a clear alternative is available, but part of it, according to Irving, had to do with a little-considered downside of the more stylish version he wore back in 2012:
“I was telling some of my teammates — some of the fans, too, they were asking me whether I was going to wear the black mask,” Irving said, according to Jay King of MassLive.com. “The difference with the black mask is that they’re not getting the ball, because I couldn’t see.
“So I was like, ‘Little do you guys know.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, the masked man, the black mask!’ I scored that many because I was just looking at the basket. A lot of my peripheral vision and driving, I could only see what’s in front of me. That black mask, like, it just takes away your vision, so I’m just like, ‘Oh, basket.’ Like, this is just the best-case scenario. So that’s the whole black mask thing. So I’m glad I get to wear a clear one.”
Well, not that glad.
“It’s almost like having somewhat foggy blinders on,” Irving said. “When I take off the mask, I can see everything and when I have the mask on, I’m really dialed into what’s in front of me. My peripherals are a little cut off, up and down. It’s something to get used to. It is what it is.”
Irving said he hopes to be out of the mask in “a few more weeks,” so he’s going to have some time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s not the biggest challenge he and the East-leading Celtics are facing this week, though. That’d be Thursday’s looming matchup with the West-leading and defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The team that knocked off Irving’s Cavaliers in two of the last three NBA Finals has, after an at-times sluggish start to the season, been on a rampage arguably as impressive as the Celtics’ own:
Updated path of destruction
Seventh straight blowout win by the Warriors
Clippers by 28
Spurs by 20
Nuggets by 19
Heat by 17
Wolves by 24
Sixers by 21
Magic by 10
Up next: Celtics in Boston
— Clever Hoops (@CleverHoops) November 14, 2017
“It’s definitely an incredible streak we’re on, and now comes the whole media frenzy of ‘Will the streak end?’ and ‘What’s going to happen on Thursday and the Golden State Warriors coming to Boston?'” Irving said after beating the Nets, according to Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press. “So I’m looking forward to all that hoopla.”
You’ll forgive him, though, if he’s just not real stoked that he’s going to have to wear his awkward armor to face it.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Vice president’s Colts stunt cost police $14K, showed ‘disregard for ethics’
• President Trump wants a thank-you from the UCLA Three
• Halladay’s widow delivered a brave and emotional eulogy for her husband
• Chris Mannix: Timberwolves’ defense still lacking teeth