BOSTON -- We have seen Kyrie Irving do some amazing things with the basketball, but his emotions by and large seemed to always be bottled up.
Not on Wednesday night.
We saw Irving stare down Raptors players after scoring on them, implore the crowd to get louder and when he delivered a late-game dagger that seemingly buried the Raptors on this night, there was Irving once again, pounding his chest, letting anyone in sight know one thing - this was his game, his night and come hell or a high scoring night from from Kawhi Leonard, he was not going to be denied a victory.
Irving and the Celtics proved once again that they are at their best against the best in defeating the Raptors 117-108.
He led the Celtics with his eighth double-double of the season, scoring 27 points while dishing out a career-high 18 assists which includes him either scoring or having an assist in Boston’s last 11 points of the game.
“Somehow, people still think I can’t pass,” Irving said. “It’s always an interesting thing, get a career high in assists. It made my job a lot easier tonight. I was just trying to find open guys. It was just feeling good about the basketball, taking over when needed.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has watched Irving play ever since he was trying out for the USA Basketball Under-18 team.
So to see Irving go off for big assist nights now, is not at all shocking.
"He's always been a special playmaker," Stevens said. "He's always been able to play with the ball and make plays for himself and others. That's always been something he could do. He did it more than people talked about, in Cleveland, and, you know, he's a threat to make the right shot. Obviously draws a lot of attention and he usually can make the right read off of that. He's a great passer, with great touch on his passes."
After Toronto’s Danny Green tied the game at 106 with a turnaround shot, Irving immediately went into full-blown takeover mode.
First there was the 19-foot step-back jumper by Irving that put Boston up 108-106.
After Boston forced a shot clock violation, Irving struck again. But this time it was from deep range - like 31 feet deep - that put Boston ahead 111-106 leading to a Raptors time-out with 1:39 to play.
Boston would score on its following three possessions with Irving assisting on all three made baskets.
“He (Irving) made really good plays,” Stevens said. “We were just trying to get different matchups off the pick-and-roll, and then at the end they were, they were doing what we call ‘fly switching’ and bringing up who they wanted to bring up with the ball, and we just beat his guy and made plays for Al (Horford) so … he did a great job.”
Horford, who had 24 points including four of Boston’s final six points of the game, echoed similar sentiments about Irving’s game.
“He got to showcase his versatility,” Horford said. “The way that he plays. He had the defense on edge. They didn’t know if he was going to score or if he was going to pass. He was just making the right play every time.”
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, who led all scorers with 33 points, acknowledged the pickle that Irving’s play put him and his teammates in.
“When you have Kyrie with the basketball it is hard to leave someone on high land to play one-on-one,” Leonard said. “They did a good job tonight; He (Irving) did a good job tonight.”
You can add Marcus Smart to the long list of folks impressed with Irving’s play on Wednesday as well..
“It’s ridiculous, man,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “His basketball I.Q. is one of the tops in the world. That’s why he is, who he is; Uncle Drew and rightfully so. He played the game the right way. When he gets in that zone, it’s hard to stop him.”
And while breaking down Irving’s night, the one thing that the stat sheet doesn’t show but was clearly on display for all to see … Irving was having fun.
“In this league, no matter how many games you’ve played, no matter what’s going on on the outside, or anything like that, you just got to truly appreciate playing the game that you love at a very high level,” Irving said. “Having some fun with it. I felt like we did a great job with that tonight and feeding off our fans as well.”
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