BOSTON – Even with a healthy Kyrie Irving, the Celtics struggled to score Friday night. To lose him less than two minutes into Friday’s game against Charlotte, you knew points would indeed be at a premium.
But the Celtics did what we’ve seen them do all season - look adversity in the eye, grin, and keep moving with a “no worries, we got this” mindset that has been critical to them winning 11 in a row and continuing to boast the best record in the NBA (11-2) following a 90-87 victory over the Hornets.
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Irving was unable to play after catching an elbow to the face from teammate Aron Baynes that knocked him to the ground. He is being monitored for concussion-like symptoms. That has his availability for the game Sunday afternoon against Toronto at TD Garden very much up in the air.
However, within the disappointment of Irving’s injury comes with the reality that the Celtics managed to once again overcome a key personnel loss by rallying for a victory despite the odds being heavily stacked against them.
“We just got a lot of fight in us,” said Shane Larkin who finished with a season-high 16 points. “A lot of resilient guys. We believe in our team. We believe in each other. We just go out there and play together. There’s not one guy that took it upon himself to say, ‘all right I’m gonna bring us back.’ We kind of played together. Played the right way and when we do, it’s hard to guard all of us.”
Here are five takeaways from the C's 11th consecutive victory:
For a team with several players who stepped up in the second half, few elevated their play the way Larkin did for the Celtics. He wasn’t just making shots; he was making them at critical times as Boston worked towards erasing an 18-point deficit. Larkin finished with a season-high 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
STATS ARE FOR LOSERS
Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets a lot of praise for the “stats are for losers” line, but what often gets ignored is what he said after that. “The final score is for winners and that’s what it’s really about,” Belichick said. The play of Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown are good examples of that. They combined to shoot just 6-for-30 from the field, and yet there was Smart tallying almost half (seven) of Boston’s 15 assists. And it was Brown’s driving lay-up in the fourth quarter that gave Boston a one-point lead that it would not relinquish, not to mention he grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. The numbers weren’t great for either player, but their ability to impact winning – which as Belichick says, is what it’s all about – is undeniable.
As this winning streak of the Celtics rolls along, Stevens becomes a bigger part of the team’s success. He’s putting guys in position to be great, keeping the spirits high of guys at the end of the bench who know he’ll give them a shot at some point. Most significant? The Celtics just keep on winning. A number of different faces have emerged which helps, but the one constant in the team’s run of success has been Stevens. “He’s a guru,” said Marcus Morris. “He’s putting us in the right spots, calling out the plays. He’s doing really good, utilizing everybody.”
For those who wonder just how good a defender Aron Baynes can be, Friday night was like a Baynes highlight reel. He blocked three shots, contested others and made his presence inside the paint defensively his own personal no-fly zone for Hornets players. He spent more time than anyone guarding Dwight Howard, playing a critical role in Howard missing six of his eight shots. On top of that, Howard wound up with more turnovers (seven) than points (six).
He only has a handful of games under his belt this season, but it’s clear why the Celtics viewed him as someone who could help them this season. The final 23.8 seconds Friday served as a reminder as to his value to this team. After draining a 21-footer that put Boston ahead 88-85, he followed that with the defensive play of the night. With Boston clinging to an 88-87 lead, he forced ultra-quick Kemba Walker into a really tough miss that would serve as Charlotte’s last shot at victory. The big shot and clutch defensive play were only part of what made it such a good game for Morris. Afterwards, he indicated that he did not have any major soreness in his left knee, which was not the case after his previous game. His improving health combined with his talents at both ends of the floor, bode well for Boston’s chance to continue along its winning ways on Sunday against Toronto.
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