– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
BOSTON — Kryie Irving had seen his team let a 16-point second-half lead dissipate, and, when his Boston Celtics needed to take back control of the game, the point guard did everything in his power to keep Boston’s home winning streak alive.
And by everything, Kyrie did everything.
Irving scored or assisted on each of Boston’s last 10 made field goals, including nailing a step-back jumper and a deep three-pointer on back-to-back possessions to give the Celtics the lead for good in a 117-108 victory over the Toronto Raptors in a battle of two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The win was Boston’s seventh consecutive victory at TD Garden, the longest active home winning streak in the league.
Boston ended the game on a 17-4 run after the Raptors took a 104-100 lead, and whether it was putting his defender on skates on his drives to the basket or setting up his teammates for open shots, Irving willed his team in snapping a three-game losing streak that it came in with before tonight.
“I felt like it was our game, you know, for the majority of the game,” said Irving, who became the first player to record at least 27 points and 18 assists in a game since Chris Paul did so in 2009. “[Toronto] came out and hit us first and we had to respond. I thought we did a great job of that.”
The Celtics were in control of the game midway through the third quarter, when Irving completed a three-point play to give Boston a 74-58 lead, but then the Raptors, led by Kawhi Leonard’s 12 fourth-quarter points, stormed back in attempting to snap a four-game road losing streak to the Celtics.
Irving then turned the latter part of the fourth quarter into his own personal showcase. He first assisted back-to-back field goals by Jayson Tatum — a layup that resulted in a three-point play and a three-pointer — to cut Toronto’s lead to one, then, with the score tied at 106, Irving penetrated before hitting a step-back jumper at the free throw line to give Boston the lead for good.
Kyrie was far from done, however. On the next possession, Irving pulled up in front of Leonard and sank a 30-foot three-pointer for a 111-106 lead. From there, Irving turned into the set-up man once again as Al Horford scored on a layup and an alley-oop dunk to seal the victory.
“[Kyrie] made really good plays. We were just trying to get different match-ups off the pick-and-roll, and then at the end they were – they were doing what we call ‘fly switching’ and bringing up who they wanted to bring up with the ball, and he just beat his guy and made plays for Al,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Those shots were huge and then the playmaking at the very end.”
Though the Raptors used Leonard’s production (33 points) to regain the lead, the team, outside of Leonard, went 6-for-18 from the floor in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously the last three minutes of the game got away from us, and I think almost blame more of it on the offense,” said Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I thought we had a really good rhythm and momentum for such a long stretch there offensively then we took a couple quick shots and didn’t execute a couple things exactly right, like out of a timeout one time. You can’t do that, that puts you in a scramble back the other way.”
Serge Ibaka scored 22 and had 10 rebounds for the Raptors while Kyle Lowry had 10 points and seven assists as he struggled from the field in making just three of his 10 field-goal attempts.
“Give Kawhi some help,” Lowry said when asked how the team could have executed better down the stretch. “A lot of the things we’ve done is give Kawhi the ball and get out of the way. He’s that talented of a player but we need to help him. We have to pay attention to detail better. A lot of things to work on.”