Kyrie Irving showcases scoring, playmaking skills in Celtics win over Raptors

Kyrie Irving showcases scoring, playmaking skills in Celtics win over Raptors

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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Celtics center Tacko Fall meets John Cena at Friday Night SmackDown

Celtics center Tacko Fall meets John Cena at Friday Night SmackDown

Tacko Fall has quickly become a household name despite playing very little in the NBA. The 7-foot-5 center for the Boston Celtics became a star in the Las Vegas Summer League and since that time, the star hasn't faded.

Everywhere Fall has gone, attention has followed. It was Tacko Time, all the time at NBA All-Star Weekend. And every time he checks into games, home or away, he gets a massive round of applause.

Fall has mostly been focusing on improving his game in hopes of signing a non two-way contract ahead of next NBA season but has humbly embraced his star status, too. And his modesty was on display when he met another celebrity on Friday night, professional wrestler John Cena.

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Fall met the WWE star at Friday Night SmackDown in Boston. Here's a clip of the two meeting, via the league's official Twitter account.

This is a really great moment for the two and it seems that they share a mutual admiration. And it was nice of Cena to take some time to meet Fall before the game.

Fall, for one, won't forget this moment. And he surely seems to think that his grandmother will be excited that he got a chance to meet Cena.

Fall is currently dealing with a toe injury and sat out his last G League game with the Maine Red Claws. With Robert Williams rejoining the Celtics, it seems likely that any minutes he gets at the NBA level down the stretch of the season will be late in games that are already decided. But nonetheless, it'll be an opportunity for him to continue to develop.

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Why Robert Williams is the Celtics' wild card

Why Robert Williams is the Celtics' wild card

BOSTON — It’s unfair to expect too much from Robert Williams when he returns to the Boston Celtics’ active roster Saturday night against the Houston Rockets, but Williams is undeniably a wild card for the Celtics and their hopes of title contention down the stretch of the 2019-20 season.

Williams, the 27th overall pick in the 2018 draft, has missed the last 35 games due to a sore left hip. The team shut him down for two moths starting in early December hoping to combat the lingering issue, then ramped him up for much of February.

A scan Thursday showed no degradation from the recent uptick in activity and coach Brad Stevens said Friday that Williams has been cleared to return to play again. The team formally listed him as probable against the Rockets.

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So what can the Celtics reasonably expect from Williams?

Stevens said Williams would be “very limited for the first couple of games.” Williams, who was only averaging 14.2 minutes per game in 19 appearances earlier in the year, will undoubted display some rust but his adrenaline should carry him early. Stevens said that energy was evident at Friday’s practice.

“He had a little extra bounce in his step today,” said Stevens. "You can tell, he’s been antsy to go for a while now, so we’re happy that he’s going to be able to be back.”

Added Stevens: "We’re excited, nobody moreso than Rob.”

Boston decision-makers have offered encouraging updates on Williams in recent weeks. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had routinely noted that Williams looked spry in small-group work. Stevens said earlier this week that Williams was dunking “at 13 feet,” suggesting he still had his pre-injury explosion. Teammates gushed about the loud alley-oop dunks that Williams threw down after returning to full-team practice before the recent west coast trip.

Williams noted that, during his time away, he worked on being more disciplined. One of Williams’ biggest weaknesses early in his pro career has been leaving his feet and chasing blocks. Williams, who is averaging 1.2 blocks per game for his career, has pledged to be more selective when trying to swat shots.

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The Celtics, with their perpetual injury woes, have a need for depth. As good as starter Daniel Theis and backup Enes Kanter have been in tag-teaming the big-man minutes, Williams can provide a different look and verticality at the center position. Williams’ lob-catching potential will be a welcome addition to a bench that’s offered limiting scoring output, particularly recently with Kemba Walker sidelined and Marcus Smart elevated to a starting role.

Williams projects as part of Boston’s top 8 rotation, though his playing time could hinge on how effective Theis and Kanter are on certain nights. A team like the Rockets, with their micro-ball ways, might be exactly the sort of situation that Williams can help the Celtics (at least when he’s at full health).

Offensively, Williams’ passing will be a nice addition to the second unit, and he can facilitate from the high post when he’s not rim running. Williams doesn’t need shots and is content to score off lobs and putbacks. He does need to be more careful with the ball and avoid some of the careless turnovers that took away from his quality play early in the year.

A return Saturday gives Williams seven weeks to ramp back up before the playoffs arrive. He played sparingly a year ago (13 minutes in three appearances) but is at least familiar with playoff intensity, unlike the rookies at the end of Boston’s roster.

Williams isn’t going to radically alter the Celtics’ ceiling but he can help and maybe more than any buyout candidate might have. How appropriate, too, that a man nicknamed Time Lord is making his return on Leap Day.

Expectations should be low, but Williams can still be very impactful in a small role. There’s been glimpses of his potential already this season, like a loud performance in San Antonio in which he registered 11 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting while adding seven rebounds and six blocks in 22 minutes during a lopsided Boston win.

The Celtics came into the season with big hopes for Williams. The injury has set him back. It’s unfair to expect too much from him the rest of the way, but he can still very much impact Boston’s quest to contend based on the team’s overall collection of talent and the unique lineups they can trot out.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.