Kyrie streaks back in

Celtics ex­tend run to 13

Boston Herald - - NHL / NBA SCOREBOARD / RACING - By MARK MUR­PHY

NEW YORK — The pair­ing of Kyrie Irv­ing and a pro­tec­tive mask is not a lov­ing com­bi­na­tion, to be sure.

Irv­ing re­turned to the Celtics wear­ing the con­trap­tion to pro­tect a small fa­cial frac­ture un­der his right eye, and with vary­ing de­grees of ir­ri­ta­tion, he pulled it off last night dur­ing ev­ery break in play.

And as Irv­ing and his mates took the Celtics to their 13th straight win with a tight 109-102 fin­ish against the Brook­lyn Nets, the air filled with “MVP” chants from all those fans of the vis­it­ing team at the Bar­clays Cen­ter, no­tably when he made two trips to the free throw line in the last 1:48.

The masked Irv­ing might have dis­liked his new look, but de­spite the awk­ward­ness, he sprung for 25 points and five as­sists.

As irk­some as the clear plas­tic mask might be, Irv­ing said it was bet­ter from a team per­spec­tive than the black one he wore in 2012 with the Cleve­land Cava­liers to pro­tect a bro­ken jaw.

“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. “The dif­fer­ence with the black mask is that they’re not get­ting the ball be­cause I couldn’t see out­side of my eye­sight. 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. So 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. I’m telling these guys, ‘Come on, show some grat­i­tude. I’m show­ing grat­i­tude, too, for not wear­ing that black mask.’ So yeah, hope­fully a few more weeks in the mask and I’ll be out of it.”

In truth, the Celtics of­fense, which has of­ten strug­gled even with Irv­ing’s face unim­peded — in­deed, his 8-for-20 shoot­ing per­for­mance wasn’t all that dif­fer­ent from his 44.4 per­cent com­ing in — was no bet­ter last night. But Mar­cus Morris, with 21 points, went for his big­gest night as a Celtic, in­clud­ing a seven-point fourth quar­ter, the same num­ber put up by Irv­ing down the stretch. Al Hor­ford also con­tin­ued his ef­fi­cient run, with 17 points on 8-for10 shoot­ing.

Hor­ford has shot 16-for-19 dur­ing his past two games.

These Nets are a vol­umeshoot­ing, pace-ac­cel­er­ated team un­der coach Kenny Atkinson. Brook­lyn was only the fourth team, and only the sec­ond dur­ing this 13-game win­ning streak, to break 100 against the C’s this sea­son.

One would think a team play­ing this style is good prepa­ra­tion for the next one on the sched­ule — the de­fend­ing NBA cham­pion Golden State War­riors.

“They re­ally chal­lenge you,” Hor­ford said of the Nets. “They play fast, and Golden State, that’s what they do. They set the tone. They’re great at that. But yeah, this was a good game for us.”

The Celtics carved out some ma­jor space with a 19-2 third-quar­ter run that led to an 80-72 ad­van­tage at the start of the fourth, but it did lit­tle to ce­ment mo­men­tum. The Nets im­me­di­ately hit back with a 9-2 run in the first 2:05 of the fourth to make it a one-point game, be­fore four straight free throws from the two Mar­cuses — Morris and Smart.

The C’s lead grew to 9583 head­ing into the fi­nal five min­utes, but Brook­lyn found its range again, and Alan Crabbe cut the deficit to 95-91 with back-to-back 3-point­ers.

Fol­low­ing a stretch of trad­ing shots, Irv­ing came out of a re­bound pack with the ball fol­low­ing a Ron­dae Hol­lis-Jef­fer­son miss, and Jaylen Brown ex­tended the break with a lob to a dunk­ing Jayson Ta­tum for a 10496 lead.

With the crowd chant­ing, “MVP,” Irv­ing found him­self back at the line with 37.1 sec­onds left, hit­ting twice for a 106-96 lead that would fi­nally prove to be enough.

“We’re just gelling to­gether, and we’re de­fend­ing our (butts) off,” Morris said. “That helps a lot. Some­times our of­fense gets a lit­tle stag­nant, but at the end of the day, if we de­fend the right way, we’re go­ing to win games.”

GETTY­IMAGES

ON A ROLL: Kyrie Irv­ing takes ad­van­tage of a pick by Al Hor­ford to drive to the bas­ket dur­ing the Celtics’ vic­tory against the Nets last night in New York.

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