Celtics

Oakland A's continue their magical season

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Oakland A's continue their magical season

From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- After a season filled with dramatic comebacks and memorable endings, the Oakland Athletics now expect the unexpected.Two runs down and three outs away from their season ending, the A's staged their most magical finish yet.Seth Smith hit a game-tying two-run double off closer Jose Valverde in the ninth inning and Coco Crisp capped Oakland's rally with a two-out RBI single as the A's staved off elimination for a second straight night with a 4-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 Wednesday night."We've heard a lot of people say we're not smart enough to know when to lose a game like most people do," said Josh Reddick, who started the rally with a single. "We've been battling till the 27th out all year and we're not going to stop now."The A's rode a major league-leading 14 walkoff wins in the regular season to an improbable AL West title. Those paled in comparison to No. 15, which set up a win-or-go-home Game 5 against Justin Verlander and the Tigers.Reddick led off the ninth with a single just under the glove of diving second baseman Omar Infante. Josh Donaldson followed with a double off the wall in left-center and both runners scored on Smith's double."There's a confidence," manager Bob Melvin said. "We've done it so many times so there's always going to be that confidence until we make that last out."Two outs later, Crisp lined a single and Smith scored easily when right fielder Avisail Garcia couldn't handle the ball.That set off a raucous celebration near first base as the A's poured out of the dugout to mob Crisp, who was the recipient of a whipped cream pie that became a regular occurrence in this remarkable season in Oakland. This marked the second time the A's erased a two-run deficit in the ninth inning to win a postseason game, the other coming in Game 5 of the 1929 World Series."It's amazing," Crisp said. "The guys in front of me obviously did a fantastic job of getting on base. ... This club, we've been battling the whole year, giving 100 percent, and these walkoffs have been our MO this year."Ryan Cook retired four batters for the win.The A's, who have the lowest payroll in baseball, need just one more surprising result to win their second postseason series since 1990. Rookie Jarrod Parker will take the mound in Game 5 on Thursday night against Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young winner and MVP."That's why this is the greatest game of all," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It looked like we were going to get it. We didn't do it. We didn't quite get the 27 outs, that's part of the game. You get tested all the time in this game. And this is a good test."The Tigers looked to be in prime position to advance to their second straight ALCS and have a rested Verlander for Game 1 when they took a 3-1 lead into the ninth behind a strong start from Max Scherzer and a homer from Prince Fielder.Now the A's are one win away from repeating last week's three-game sweep of Texas that gave them the AL West title on the final day of the regular season. After losing the first two games in Detroit, the A's won 2-0 in Game 3 and are looking to become the eighth team to rally from two games down to win a best-of-five series.The San Francisco Giants will have a shot to do it as well earlier Thursday when they face Cincinnati in Game 5 of their NL division series.Scherzer, who was dealing with shoulder, deltoid and ankle injuries late in the season, looked in top form against the A's. He allowed just one baserunner in the first four innings and struck out seven of the first 15 batters before running into his first trouble in the fifth.Smith worked a two-out walk and went to third on Derek Norris' opposite-field blooper down the right-field line. But Scherzer responded by getting Cliff Pennington to chase an offspeed pitch in the dirt for his eighth strikeout.The A's finally got to Scherzer for an unearned run in the sixth. Crisp reached when Fielder misplayed a hard grounder to first base into a two-base error. Crisp advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Stephen Drew's double to right-center. But the A's ran themselves out of a potential big inning when third-base coach Mike Gallego waved Drew around to third, where he was easily caught on the relay for the first out.Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke both retired a batter to get out of the sixth and Al Alburquerque pitched a perfect seventh in his first appearance since his memorable kiss of the baseball on a comebacker by Yoenis Cespedes in Game 2. Joaquin Benoit escaped a first-and-second jam in the eighth by striking out Brandon Moss, but Valverde couldn't close it."This is the toughest moment in my whole career," Valverde said. "I had everything. These guys hit it. There's nothing I can do."NOTES:This is the seventh postseason walkoff win for the A's in franchise history and first since Ramon Hernandez won it with a squeeze bunt in the 2003 division series against Boston. ... A.J. Griffin allowed two runs in 5-plus innings. He was the third Oakland rookie pitcher to start a game this series, the most ever by a team in a single postseason. The A's used just two rookie starting pitchers in 147 postseason games before this year:: Joe Bush in the 1913 World Series and Barry Zito in the 2000 division series. ... Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera has not driven in a run in the series. ... Reddick has struck out eight times in the four games, setting an Oakland record for most in a postseason series.

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

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Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

BOSTON – For most of this NBA season, the narrative surrounding the Celtics has centered around the maturity of their young players.

Well, there's a much bigger tale of growth on this team. But we're not talking about rookie Jayson Tatum or second-year wing Jaylen Brown.

We're talking about Kyrie Irving, whose desire for growth fueled his decision to want out of Cleveland this past offseason.

And that growth has in turn sparked the Celtics to what has been an unprecedented run of success.

"He's doing things that we never saw when he was in Cleveland," one league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. "He always had great talent, but could he lead a really good team? I think we got our answer now."

The Celtics (16-2) boast the best record in the NBA, which is amazing when you consider Gordon Hayward broke his ankle less than five minutes into the season opener. Not to mention they lost their first two games.

Literally all they've done since then is win.

Boston's 16 straight victories is an NBA record after losing the first two games of the season. The winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in franchise history.

And while the pieces to Boston's success vary, the man whose growth has been at the epicenter of the Celtics' emergence as a title contender has been Irving.

You can count Mike Brown, Irving's former coach in Cleveland, among those impressed with the growth in Irving on all levels.

"To see Kyrie taking ownership of not only little things offensively, but even on the other end of the floor, leadership and all that other stuff ... I'm happy for him, I'm excited for him," Brown, now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, told NBC Sports Boston. 

While his numbers have taken a slight dip here in Boston, Irving seems to be better in tune with what he needs to do to positively impact the play of his teammates and the team as a whole.

In Boston's 110-102 overtime win at Dallas on Monday, Irving had 47 points, the most he's scored as a Celtic.

His scoring binge included 10 points in overtime. 

And when talking about his monster scoring night, Irving provides a clue as to how his approach to the game has changed over the years in terms of scoring.

Irving described his breakout scoring night as something that "was called upon," adding: "I don't think I needed to score over 20 or 25 in particular games. So I think if you would have asked me that question probably a few years ago, I would probably tell you that I would definitely be trying to get 40."

Earlier this season, Irving talked about developing some bad habits early in his career because his primary goal, like most high draft picks, was to get buckets. That frequently led to the ball sticking in his hands too long, or him having to force up shots and not getting his teammates involved as much as he should have.

While some chalked it up to him being a selfish player, Brown saw it differently.

"A lot of it was his youth, which is more than understandable," said Brown, who coached Irving in Cleveland during the 2013-14 season. "When he first came into the league, he had played 11 games in college. Before that with high school and AAU, for a guy that talented, it was pretty easy for him. He could go out and get 40 and win and not have to focus on anything else."

Brown recalls one of the early challenges with Irving was getting him to get his teammates involved more consistently.

"One of the things I used to always hit him with, he can score and finish in a crowd like no other, especially at his size," Brown recalled. "He draws a lot of attention. I always used to tell him, whether it's the strong-side or the weak-side, guys in the corners are wide open when you dribble-penetrate because you are such a dangerous finisher."

There would be film study to illustrate this point. It would show just how easily Irving would get to various spots on the floor by breaking his defender down or splitting an upcoming double team. But it would also show that when he made his moves in traffic, far too often his head would be down, which is why he wasn't finding teammates open.

Brown pointed this out as an area Irving needed to get better at if he were going to continue ascending up the point-guard stratosphere in the NBA.

"And you know, he got a little better at it," Brown said. 

Today?

"I tell you right now, he's a double-edged sword," Brown said. "Now, not only can he finish in traffic, now he's finding guys in the strong-corner. He's finding guys in the weak corner. And he's finding guys that are in the slots above the corner on the wing. To see him make that pass with such ease and precision right now, at least for me it's a joy. It's a joy for me because it's something I knew he could do. As a young man in high school and AAU, he's probably thinking, score, score, score. So that's not something he developed growing up, at least he didn't show to me. Now to see him do it, it's beautiful."

It certainly has been for the Celtics, who are off to their best start under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has found a way to blend his system, which is heavily predicated on ball movement offensively and the ability to switch frequently on defense, with Irving's immense individual talent. So far at least, has been a good fit for all involved.

"Kyrie is trying to do his role to the best of his ability," Stevens said. "Obviously, his role garners a lot of attention because he scores the ball and he has those moments where he mesmerizes everybody with his ability to score the ball and handle the ball and stuff. He's trying to do all the little things. It's a brand new system. There's going to continue to be an adjustment period for him. But he's done a good job."

Listening to Irving talk following the win over Dallas, it's clear there's a considerable amount of thought on his part given to how he'll attack defenses even though we're talking about split-second, on-the-fly decisions.

"It just happens," Irving said when asked about his best scoring night as a Celtic. "Just the flow of the game, understanding where spacing is, where the shot is going to come from, when it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal, being aggressive and take advantage of certain things I was seeing out there. But my teammates did a great job of continuing to pressure the basketball."

And he continues to provide both strong play and leadership, which have moved the needle closer to him achieving what he was seeking when he asked the Cavs to trade him during the offseason.

"This was literally a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward," he said earlier this season.

Watching him inside the Celtics locker room and on the floor, it's clear that he's having a good time out there.

And his career going forward? 

Irving's impact on winning has positioned him to where a strong case can be made for him being a top-5 league MVP candidate.

Following the Dallas win, Irving was serenaded by fans chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P'" which certainly brought a smile to his face and was somewhat unexpected considering Boston was on the road.

"It's pretty awesome," Irving said of the chants. "But we got a long way to go."

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