Spreading the Christmas Cheer (76ers-Celtics Recap)

Yusuf Abdullah/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


BOSTON — Kyrie Irving’s memorable Christmas Day on Tuesday started well before he ever set foot on the parquet floor of TD Garden, though, after his basketball-related work was completed, he ended up spreading his thankful holiday cheer to almost 20,000 Boston Celtics fans in one of the more dramatic and well-played games in the NBA this season.

Boston, continuing its long history of being a staple of Yuletide basketball, added to that lore through Irving, whose game-tying jumper late in regulation and back-to-back three-pointers in overtime lifted the Celtics to a 121-114 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in a marquee Eastern Conference matchup that turned a festive mood before the game to that of a conference finals-like excitement during and afterward.

Irving’s two threes in the extra session were six of his 40 points scored, and, along with his 10 rebounds, he became the first Boston player since Paul Pierce in 2005 to record at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in the same game. Another Celtics legend, Tom Heinsohn, was the only Celtic to put up those numbers in a Christmas Day game before Irving’s performance.

As special as the win was in the standings, as well as the continued ownership of one of the other top teams in the Eastern Conference in winning its ninth game against the Sixers in their past 11 match-ups, all of it paled in comparison to the actions and reactions that occurred to start his day, celebrating the holiday with his family, including his three-year old daughter, Azurie.

“I mean, I love going against the best, so it’s not too often you get to do that in the regular season, especially on a holiday like Christmas,” Irving said. “Got to open presents with my family this morning, and come in to work. You know, it’s great.”

Extended members of Irving’s family had been in town since Boston’s game on Saturday against Charlotte, and by the time Christmas Day rolled around, it was hard for Irving not to contain his child-like excitement, acting more like many young kids who go to bed on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa coming down to chimney to deliver presents.

“I told my teammates [when] I came into the locker room, I said my family is here to watch me play. I got 20-plus people from my family. I’m acting up, you have no idea, I’m so excited.” Irving said jovially.

The hectic life of an NBA athlete — let alone an NBA superstar like Irving — usually does not allow for too many family gatherings akin to that many others experience on Christmas, making today’s gathering of family even more cherished.

“I never really get a chance to have my family all in one place, most of my family for that matter,” Irving said. “It means a lot of me. They haven’t really seen me play since I was like was a kid, I mean everybody. My aunts, my uncles, friends. It just meant a lot to me.”

“I never really get a chance to have my family all in one place, most of my family for that matter,” Irving said. “It means a lot of me. They haven’t really seen me play since I was like was a kid, I mean everybody. My aunts, my uncles, friends. It just meant a lot to me.”

Irving’s day almost felt scripted in the Miracle on 34th Street mold, and his game-tying jumper to tie the game at 108 with 20.9 seconds to go was straight out of Hollywood. Not able to shake off Jimmy Butler on the perimeter, Irving was forced to take a contested, 13-foot fadeaway jumper from the left side that bounced off the front rim and popped into the air before dropping through the net.

“Jimmy was pressuring me so well, and just trying to get to a spot and raise up over him,” Irving said about the Celtics’ final possession of regulation. “I just couldn’t get the ball in — when I finally did, I got squared and I faded and just put a little bit more air on it and just hit the front of the rim and went in.”

With a second chance to win the game in overtime, and his family probably overjoyed and enthused by seeing their family play the role of hero in regulation, Irving made sure Christmas Day for all supporting him would be merry and bright. With Philadelphia holding a 114-112 lead after a Ben Simmons free throw, Irving drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Celtics the lead that they would end up not relinquishing for the rest of the game. On the next possession, after a defensive stop, Irving pulled up from 30 feet in transition from the right win, draining the shot that turned out to be the coup de grâce.

“His back-to-back threes are what we are going to remember,” said Sixers head coach Brett Brown.

Irving surely will remember those threes, but certainly also remember being able to celebrate Christmas and the holiday weekend with family even more. Charlotte and Philadelphia sure will remember, too.

“[My family] was here against Charlotte as well, and I came out just cooking,” Irving said. “I’m like, it don’t even matter what the Hornets do or what the Sixers do. I’m here to play for my family and my teammates.

“It’s just the Christmas spirit. And I missed it.”

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