Celtics

Irving's drive to succeed heads down new path without Hayward

Irving's drive to succeed heads down new path without Hayward

BOSTON –  It seems everyone is waiting for that breakout game by Kyrie Irving, that game when he puts the Boston Celtics on his back, carries them to victory and serves as a reminder to everyone why he’s a four-time All-Star despite being just 25 years old.

But here’s the thing.

He understands better than most that being a dominant, high-scoring guard isn’t what this is all about.

Irving loves to win, and he knows winning isn’t easy.

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And that challenge of trying to win at a high level is clearly something that excites him.

That’s why the biggest gleam in his eye following Tuesday’s 110-89 win over New York wasn’t when he was talking about Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s growth, or the budding chemistry developing between him and Al Horford.

It was when he talked about being on the road, and how much he loves to play on another team’s home floor.

“I love them; I love them,” Irving said of road games, failing miserably to talk about them and not have an ear-to-ear grin on his face at the same time. “I love playing at home more, but I love road games so much. It’s a test of character and you understand that. When teams go on runs or the calls may kind of be uneven, you’re tested in terms of will, guys in foul trouble or guys in foul trouble early; you never know what can happen in a road game. And that unpredictability is something that is great for building an identity of a team.”

And that is what all of this is about.

Even though Brown and Tatum were the focal points for most following Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, Irving quietly had one of his best games as a Celtic.

He would finish with 20 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but also had seven assists and just three turnovers.

Within the points scored, Irving drained a corner 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock in the third quarter.

Al Horford explained why he passed the ball to Irving with about a second to get a shot off.

“I feel he lives for those moments,” Horford said of Irving.

He does.

His former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, knows this all too well.

It was Irving’s shot in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals that catapulted the Cavaliers to an NBA title, a shot that will be remembered as arguably the greatest in that franchise’s history.

Of course, Irving isn’t going to make every buzzer-beater he takes, but the Celtics have a player who does more than make big shots in the fourth quarter.

Irving makes historically great shots in the fourth quarter, a talent you can’t put a price tag on.

He wants to compete at the highest of levels, and understands that in his travels along the road towards greatness, he can’t make the journey on his own.

Which is why the rapid growth of Boston’s youngsters, like Brown and Tatum, is critical to Boston’s success and Irving’s evolution in Boston.

Brown, who turned 21 on Tuesday, led Boston with 23 points against the Knicks while Tatum chipped in with 22. They became the first duo in Celtics history to score 20 or more points in the same game and be 21 years old or younger at the time.  

Their development will open up more and more opportunities for Irving, something Boston desperately needs after losing Gordon Hayward (left ankle) for the season.

His injury has impacted Irving more than any other Celtic, because what Irving needs to be at his best -- spacing -- was the one thing that Hayward’s presence was going to provide him on a nightly basis.

The Celtics are still searching for the best way to fill that void, with Brown and Tatum looking like the best options now.

Both have shown the ability to contribute at a high level and take some of the pressure off Irving.

But there will come a time when the Celtics will need Irving to dominate.

Rest assured, he’ll be ready.

He was built for this mission, this opportunity, this platform to lead the Celtics in a way that will leave an indelible, unmistakable imprint on the most storied franchise in NBA history.

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Bucks vs. Celtics: It's all come down to 'who wants it the most'

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File photo

Bucks vs. Celtics: It's all come down to 'who wants it the most'

MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton knows what’s at stake so there’s no need to sugarcoat or downplay the significance of tonight’s Game 6 matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks. 

“Just win or go home,” Middleton said. “You can’t leave nothing on the line.”

Boston will come into tonight’s game with a similar approach, aware that regardless of what happens in Game 6, they will live to see another game at the TD Garden on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST. They could play Game 7 against Milwaukee or Game 1 of the second round against Philadelphia.

But the Celtics will tell you the sooner they can put away this Bucks team, the better off they’ll be. 

At this point in the series, there are no true surprises for either team.

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“Fifth time playing each other, you’re gonna know each other’s game pretty well by now,” said Milwaukee guard Matthew Dellavedova. “So it’s definitely some things we can do better, and we’ll execute better in game six.”

Like most playoff series, adjustments have a way of often being the difference between winning and losing. 

Milwaukee struck first by inserting Malcolm Brogdan into the starting lineup from Game 3 on, to replace Tony Snell who has struggled shooting the ball (29.4 percent) most of this series. And a back injury to John Henson afforded more playing time to ex-Celtic Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker, with the latter having dominant performances in Games 3 and 4, but being a non-factor in Boston’s Game 5 win which gave the Celtics a 3-2 series lead.

Boston has since countered with Marcus Smart making his playoff debut this season in Game 5 after being out six weeks with a right thumb injury, while Semi Ojeleye got his first NBA start in Boston’s Game 5 win as well. 

“It made it a little bit easier for us (defensively),” said Jaylen Brown, referring to Ojeleye’s first NBA start. “Because we can switch . . . we’re all the same. That made it a lot easier for us.”

"It’s gonna come down to who owns their space, who wants it the most and who’s gonna fight for it,” Brown said. “All that X’s and O’s and stuff  . . . it’s gonna come down to that (who wants it, fights for it more) at the end of the day.”

Terry Rozier added, “It’s gonna be a dog fight but we look to come out on top.”

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Another late error by refs: Celts should have been called for shot-clock violation

Another late error by refs: Celts should have been called for shot-clock violation

MILWAUKEE -- The NBA’s two-minute report from Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win on Tuesday confirmed what many thought at the time: A 3-point heave by Al Horford with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading 84-79 was not released prior to the 24-second shot clock expiring, and the Bucks should have been awarded the ball.
 
Following the game, Milwaukee interim head coach Joe Prunty was vocal in his belief that the officials made a mistake in not calling a 24-second violation. The lead official, Ken Mauer, told a pool reporter that the play was not reviewable because Horford missed the shot. Had he made it, the referees could have reviewed it.
 
“The rule states that under two minutes we are not allowed to review a potential 24-second violation unless the ball goes into the basket,” Mauer said.
 
Prunty understood the reason for the refusal to review the play, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. 
 
The Bucks were focused on getting the ball back and, trailing 84-79, would have had a chance to make it a one-possession game with about a minute to play. The call didn't cost Milwaukee any points, even though the Celtics successfully rebounded Horford's miss and retained possession; Marcus Morris subsequently missed a shot. Still, Boston was able to take about 20 seconds off the clock.

“That was a huge stop to get in Game 5 of a playoff series where both teams are putting everything on the line,” Prunty said after practice on Wednesday. “That’s a tough time to have a missed call. I know for me, I had a great view of it. So what I thought was a shot-clock violation was not called.”

In Sunday's Game 4, the NBA said Milwaukee's Khris Middleton should have been called for fouling Jaylen Brown with less than a minute to play as Brown drove to the basket attempting to extend Boston's 100-99 lead. Instead Brown lost the ball and the Bucks eventuallly pulled out a 104-102 victory.
 
That specific call was one of 15 made by the officials in the final two minutes of play. Of the calls made, the other 14 were correct calls or correct non-calls upon review.