Kyrie streaks back in
Celtics extend run to 13
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.”
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.