Celtics

Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hawyard share a Kobe Bryant connection

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Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hawyard share a Kobe Bryant connection

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward share more than just the same March 23 birthdate.

They also share a connection with Kobe Bryant who for years was a pain the Celtics you-know-what, but since retirement has been a voice of encouragement and assistance to past Celtics, such as Isaiah Thomas, as well as Green Team newcomers.

MORE: VIDEO: 1-on-1 interviews with Irving, Hayward and Ainge

One of the many reasons the Celtics made Hayward a top priority this summer when he became a free agent was because of the steady growth in his game that, in part, was aided by Hayward spending time with Bryant last summer.

Part of that growth came about last summer when he spent a week working out with Bryant.

“He's one of the best to ever do it," Hayward told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “And it was one of my best weeks ever."

Hayward wanted to become a more diverse, more efficient scorer.

In addition to averaging a career-high 21.9 points per game, which garnered Hayward his first All-Star selection, he also shot a career-high 50.6 percent on his 2-point attempts.

And as Hayward struggled with the tough decision between leaving the Utah Jazz after seven seasons to play elsewhere, Bryant (as well as LeBron James) was part of a six-minute video put on by the Celtics highlighting how great a sports town Boston was, even for visiting foes.
 
That would eventually become one of the many influences that ultimately played a factor in Hayward’s decision to sign a four-year, $127.8 million deal with the Celtics.
 
As for Irving, his relationship with Bryant really took off in 2012 when Bryant was part of Team USA and Irving was on the Team USA select team of younger players who practiced against Team USA.
 
Irving’s respect for Bryant was evident from the very beginning.
 
But don’t get that confused with deference or fear of the Black Mamba, whom Irving challenged to a game of 1-on-1.
 
Bryant wasn’t interested.
 
“He thinks he’s talking to a high school kid?” Irving says into the camera.

Kobe’s response?
 
“You just came out of high school, kid,” Bryant said. “You played two games [it was actually 11] in college.”
 
That exchange set the foundation for a mentor/mentee relationship that has led to Irving reaching out to Bryant in his highest moments, like having a FaceTime moment with Bryant in 2016 when the Cavs won the NBA title or in 2015 when foot and knee injuries made him ineffective in Cleveland’s second-round series that year against Chicago.
 
“During the Chicago series he was the first person I called when I had my knee issues," Irving told reporters. “I asked him a few things. He knew a little bit about [Tom] Thibodeau's defense and how they are going to corral me and what they are going to do knowing I'm hurt and he just told me how to be more effective in the scoring areas as well as on the defensive end.

Irving added, “We talked for about 30 minutes and he gave me as great a talk as I needed at that time. I was in a terrible mental space knowing I couldn't be as effective as I wanted to be. He was the first person I called and we've had a great dialogue over the last few years so it's been great."

During Thomas’ amazing playoff run for Boston shortly after the untimely death of his younger sister, Bryant was once again assisting a Celtics player.

Thomas described how Bryant would help him break down video to see things that, frankly, only Bryant would see.

“He’s definitely helped,” Thomas said during the Celtics’ second-round series against Chicago last season. “Tells me what he sees and what I should be watching for on film.”

Other players throughout the league have from time to time called upon the Black Mamba for assistance.
 
But to know how passionate the rivalry between Boston has been before and during Bryant’s time with the Lakers, it’s refreshing to see he’s not the least bit stingy with his basketball wisdom.
 
“Every time we played since I was a rookie, I was just trying to earn his respect," Irving told reporters earlier. "Guys that have come before me, I never forget their groundwork. Even guys that have come before Kobe, that allowed him to leave a legacy on this game that will last forever."
 

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

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But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

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Stars, studs and duds: Kyrie Irving stands tall

Stars, studs and duds: Kyrie Irving stands tall

As NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper talked with Kyrie Irving following his best performance as a Boston Celtic, you could hear the chants “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” from the crowd behind him.
 
Considering the way Irving played on Monday night, that’s not just a case of fandemonium people!
 
Irving delivered a performance that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, tallying 47 points in leading Boston to a 110-102 overtime win at Dallas.
 
With the win, Boston has extended its winning streak to 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
While there were lots of Celtics who contributed to the victory, no one stood as tall as Irving who tallied 10 of Boston’s 16 points in overtime.
 
“We had to claw, fight our way back for this one,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper. “But we had to earn it. These guys, the Dallas Mavericks, they gave us their best shot.”
 
And the Celtics countered with their best shot – Irving.
 
Even before the edge-of-the-cliff finish, Irving was in a rhythm that made it absolutely clear that he was going to have a big night scoring the ball.
 
“We just have to continue to get better from this point,” Irving said.
 
And as far as those “M-V-P” chants?
 
“It’s pretty awesome,” Irving said of the chants. “But we got a long way to go.”
 
Here’s a look at Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-102 overtime win over Dallas which extends Boston’s winning streak to 16 in a row which is the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
 
STAR

Kyrie Irving

This wasn’t even close, folks. Irving kept the Celtics afloat for most of the game, then guided them to victory with a dominant performance. He finished with 47 points, the most he has scored as a Boston Celtic. And on a night when most of the team struggled to make shots, they needed everything he had to offer.
 
 
 
STUDS
 
Harrison Barnes

He had a chance to win it in regulation, but failed to knock down the game-winning shot. Still, Barnes had a strong game for the Mavericks while finishing with 31 points and six rebounds.
 
Jaylen Brown

Kyrie Irving’s backcourt mate had yet another strong performance for the Celtics. He had a near double-double of 22 points and nine rebounds.
 
Jayson Tatum

Don’t let the 15-point total fool you. Tatum was a major factor in Boston’s comebacks with his ability to finish in transition and his defense down the stretch on Barnes gave the Celtics a shot as the game went into overtime.
 
J.J. Barea

The former Northeastern star was a huge spark off the bench for Dallas, tallying 16 points.
 
Marcus Smart

You can count me among those who cringed at a lot of those shots Marcus Smart took – and missed. Despite going 3-for-15 from the field, Boston doesn’t win this game without Marcus Smart. He made hustle plays defensively. He set teammates up for easy scores. And as bad as Smart shot the ball, he did make one of the biggest shots of the night, a 3-pointer that cut Dallas’ lead to 96-94 with 1:23 to play.
 
 

DUDS
 
Al Horford

He poked the ball free from Harrison Barnes late in the game which was a huge play, but for the most part Horford’s imprint on the game was non-existent. He missed four of his five shots from the field, tallying 3 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.
 
Dennis Smith Jr.

He is an explosive guard and scored six points in the first couple of minutes. From there, he was a non-factor, finishing with eight points on 4-for-16 shooting and maybe most significant, being nothing more than a cool breeze defensively as Kyrie Irving blew by him time and time again.

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