Irving scores 35 as Celtics win ninth in a row, 110-107 over Hawks

Irving scores 35 as Celtics win ninth in a row, 110-107 over Hawks

The way Al Horford has played defensively, there has been increasing talk about him as a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

But considering the play of Kyrie Irving at both ends of the floor, and his ability to deliver in the clutch -like he did in Boston’s 110-107 win over Atlanta, it’s only a matter of time if he continues along this path that he’ll be in the mix for the league MVP award.

Yes, Irving has been that good and because of that, the same can be said for the Celtics (9-2) whose winning streak lives on following a 110-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Irving led all scorers with 35 points while Jayson Tatum (21 points, 8 rebounds) had a solid game as well. Celtics big man Al Horford had a near triple-double against his former team with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder had a team-high 23 points while Dewayne Dedmon and Marco Belinelli each had 19 points.

During Boston’s nine-game winning streak which is the longest current streak in the NBA, this was the closest they had come to defeat.

A 3-pointer by Atlanta’s Malcolm Delaney put the Hawks ahead 103-101 with 2:06 to play, only for the Celtics to bounce back and close out the game with a 9-4 spurt that included big shots by Irving and Tatum.

The Hawks, coming off a big win at Cleveland on Sunday night, had played well enough for most of the game to pull off a second upset in as many nights.

A 3-pointer by Kent Bazemore put the Hawks ahead 96-95 only for Irving to come right back with a short jumper that put the Celtics back up by one, 97-96.

From the very outset of the game, it was clear that the Hawks weren’t going to allow Boston to extend their winning streak without a fight.

Atlanta scored the game’s first four points, but Boston countered with a 9-0 run.

That would be the largest lead by either team in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 26-25 as Boston closed the quarter out with a 6-0 spurt.

The game remained relatively close in the second quarter, even as Kyrie Irving began to find his rhythm, tallying 15 of his 16 points in the second quarter which ended with the score tied at 54.

Boston’s defense got going in the third quarter, limiting the Hawks to 21 points on 7-for-21 shooting along with out-rebounding the Hawks 13-6 as they pulled ahead for an 82-75 lead going into the fourth quarter.


Players love new format of All-Star game

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Players love new format of All-Star game

LOS ANGELES – The 67th NBA all-star ended with both teams clamping down on defense.

No surprise there.

But defense in the first quarter?

Well, it wasn’t playoff-caliber but it was definitely a step in the right direction if you’re a fan of defense.

In the end, Team LeBron  squeaked put a 148-145 win over Team Steph.

LeBron James led all players with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Kyrie Irving had 13 points, seven rebounds and nine assists while Al Horford tallied six points and five rebounds.

The signs that this was a different kind of all-star were apparent early on.

In the first quarter, Team LeBron’s Kemba Walker went in for what he thought would be an easy lay-up, only for Giannis Antetokounmpo to swat it out of bounds with authority.

Soon after, Antetokounmpo went up for a seemingly uncontested dunk only for Russell Westbrook to foul him on the shot.

For those tuning into the 67th NBA All-Star game, all of this seemed well, foreign.

Defense in all-star games?

Maybe the final couple of minutes of play, but in the first quarter?

Uh, no!

Of course there were the usual, every-one-has-an-EZ pass-into-the-lane stretches defensively by both teams.

With the new format that involves a mix of East and West players on both teams, has been praised as a positive by the players.

“I like it,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said prior to the game. “A little mix-up, a little clash of East and West on different sides. I like the little mix-up we have.”

San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who played for Team LeBron, echoed similar sentiments.

“I feel like anytime that you have the mixture that we have and the guys that might want to play against guys they've never played against, it's going to make the game better,” Aldridge said.

And then there’s the money aspect to think about.

The winning team would get $350,000 to the charity chosen by the team captain, while the losing team would get $150,000 to the charity chosen by the captain of the losing team.

“Anytime you add money to the pot, it's definitely going to motivate guys for sure,” Aldridge said.

The prevailing thought was more traditional style of basketball involving more effort defensively and less of the isolation, one-on-one play with matador defense being the rule and not the exception, was intended to spice up an all-star game format that had been a bit of a snooze fest in recent years.

Team LeBron spent most of the first half trailing, but regained the lead briefly in the third quarter and again late in the quarter behind the red-hot shooting of Bradley Beal.

But Team Steph regained the lead in the final minute of the quarter, 112-109, behind a 3-pointer by Steph Curry which would be the last points scored in the third.


Celtics notebook: C's and Warriors fall out of top spots

Celtics notebook: C's and Warriors fall out of top spots

LOS ANGELES – For most of this season, the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors stood atop teir respective conferences record-wise. 

And yet here we are at the All-Star break with neither the Celtics or Warriors able to boast having the best record in the East and West, respectively. 

The Toronto Raptors (41-16) have a two-game lead over Boston in the East while the Rockets (44-13) have won 10 straight and now have a half-game lead over the Warriors.

Although Toronto has been among the top teams in the East most of this season, there has been little talk about them being on the short list of title contenders. 

“At the end of the day, people have their own opinions,” said Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry. “We've got to go out there and do our job. At the end of the day, we're going to go out there, play basketball and not worry about anybody else.”

A big factor in their success has been winning at home. They enter the break with a league-best 24-4 record at home. 

So the importance of the top spot in the East and the home court advantage that comes with it, is critical to their postseason fate.

As for Houston, the Rockets have also put a high premium on finishing with the best overall record in the West. 

“It's important,” said Rockets All-Star James Harden. “That's why we're going to take it one game at a time and try to be the best we can be.”




While the Celtics naysayers are lining up now that the team has lost four of their last five games and are no longer tops in the East record-wise, there’s at least one prominent player in the NBA – Golden State’s Draymond Green – who still has a great amount of confidence in the Celtics.

I mean, they're a very good team,” he said. “They're young, this is their first year together. Obviously, Kyrie (Irving) is one of the few guys, if not the only guy, with championship experience. So, it takes a little experience to kind of figure things out.”

He points out how the level of expectations changed after Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury in the opener, and how they exceeded those modified expectations most of this season. 

“Now all of a sudden everyone is gunning for you, and that takes some adjusting to,” Green said. “So, I think they're just adjusting to it, but they'll be fine. Everyone hits that rough patch in the season. I think it's just that's what they're going through right now.”


Even before he wowed fans by winning the Verizon Slam Dunk competition, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell was the talk of All-Star weekend.

I think a lot of people are talking about him because you didn't expect that to happen,” said Washington’s John Wall. “Nobody expected Gordon Hayward to leave (for Boston), and then he (Mitchell) went into a situation to lead right away, and he's been showing it every game.”

Portland’s Damian Lillard admits he’s a fan of Mitchell’s game. 

“I think obviously every draft pick that comes into the league has talent, a lot of confidence, usually,” Lillard said. “But it's different when they're able to perform, not only from starting in the league, but to be able to do it consistently all the way up to this break we've had. We've played at least 60 games, and he's still going strong and getting better. Not just individually, but their team has won 10 or 11 games straight. So I think that says a lot about the type of player he is.”

Houston’s James Harden added, “He's in attack mode all times. He doesn't shy away from anything. Once you have that mindset as a young rookie, that will ride you out for your whole career. He doesn't shy away. Big game, steps up, makes big shot, and he leads the team.”


An All-Star weekend wouldn’t be complete without a few “where did that come from” questions. 

Here’s a small sampling. 

With the winter Olympics in full swing now, Golden State’s Klay Thompson was asked who would he put together on a bobsled team.

“Oh, probably, you need speed, so I would put John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and those are just purely fast, and Giannis Antetokounmpo,” Thompson said. “That's a good team right there.”

LeBron James said he plans to do a remake of the movie, “House Party.” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry was asked if he could remake or star in a ‘90s sitcom or movie, what would he do?

"Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," Lowry said. 

And the character he would play?

For sure, Geoffrey (the butler). He was the funniest guy to me.”


Al Horford is used to being the Domincan Republic’s lone all-star this weekend. But now Horford has company with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns being named to his first all-star team.

It's huge. For the Dominican Republic, we have two All-Stars,” Towns said. “I don't think many people, when they look at the Dominican Republic, they think about basketball talent. They're always thinking about baseball and Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano, whatever the case may be. They never think about the basketball side. The Dominican Republic has been doing an amazing job bringing up its talent and giving them the right resources so they may have a chance to be in the NBA.

Towns added, “I'm just very fortunate that me and Al could be that kind of inspiration for these kids to understand that. No matter what the circumstances, especially in the Dominican Republic, are for them, they can achieve their dreams if they just put their mind, soul and their will into every single day.”


Since undergoing left knee surgery, the Wizards have won seven of nine games in his absence. One of the two losses was an overtime thriller to the Boston Celtics. 

“Oh, they've been playing great,” Wall said. “Everybody expects me to be mad or upset. That's what you're supposed to do when somebody goes down. The next man is supposed to step up. So I'm happy for them. Tomas (Satoransky) has been great for us. Everybody's been playing well. Brad (Beal) has been leading the team. It makes my job easy so I don't feel like I have pressure to come back. The way these guys are playing like they are, it makes my job easier.”