BOSTON – Watching Kyrie Irving in the fourth quarter is something special.
There is a flow to his late-game play that transforms that moment from being the calm before the storm, to Irving becoming a one-man scoring typhoon.
“When you’re playing like that, some guys think a lot quicker than others,” Irving said. “I’m fortunate enough that my mind works a lot quicker than other people in the fourth quarter. So, it just gets me going a little bit, especially when it’s a close game. There’s just nothing like it. I love playing in those type of situations.”
The four-time All-star is coming off that kind of game, one in which he scored nine of his game-high 36 points in Boston’s 108-97 win over Philadelphia.
It’s a trend he wouldn’t mind continuing tonight against the Phoenix Suns (8-15) who are one of the NBA’s worst teams this season. Of their 15 losses, 10 have been by at least 10 points.
While it’s unlikely that Irving will be needed much if at all down the stretch tonight, it’s clear that he’s not taking the struggling Suns for granted, a team whose offense centers heavily around their starting backcourt of Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker.
“We understand that most of their offense goes through those two guys,” Irving said. “So, we just have to be aware of them. They have a very key person that flies under the radar but he can get going T.J. Warren. He just stays around the basketball. Somehow it always ends up in his hands. He’s always backdoor cutting or doing something for their team to win. They have a young guy in Marquese Chriss and veteran in Tyson Chandler. We just have to come to play. We have to match their energy and make them play our type of game.”
And while Boston is very much a work in progress, strong defense, solid rebounding with Irving leading the offensive charge in the fourth, are the pillars of success for the Boston Celtics this season.
This season, Irving is averaging 7.1 points scored in the fourth quarter which ranks third in the NBA. Showing that he can do more than just get baskets, Irving has an assists percentage in the fourth quarter of .359 which ranks 10th in the league. And Irving’s usage rate is 38.9 which ranks second in the league.
Recognizing and embracing the moment is something Irving has been comfortable with for years. He credits in part a slew of mentors who in a variety of ways, have helped shape him into the player he is today.
“I’ve had the unique opportunity to build relationships throughout the league, college basketball, throughout high school,” Irving said. “Some of my mentors are some of the best to ever do it. When you’re able to bounce ideas and talk the game and talk X’s and O’s and off the court things that really make a difference in the grand scheme of things and making you better and great in whatever you’re doing, it’s always awesome. I always get a chance to text or call him. They’re incredible at their jobs. I’m fortunate to have them in my corner, giving me advice when I need it.”
And that advice is applicable to Irving’s play all game long, but particularly in close, down-to-the-wire games.
“It’s go time; It’s go-time especially when the game is in the balance,” Irving said. “It’s the best time to play. It’s the ultimate freedom, just to showcase what you’ve been working on. You know that you’re going to get the other team’s best shot and they’re going to do things they probably wanted to adjust to throughout the game. A lot of opportunities afforded in the first three quarters won’t be there in the fourth. So you have to make very, very quick decisions in terms of what you want to do with the basketball and where guys need to be on the floor.”
And that can a special thing to see, especially when Irving is on the floor down the stretch.