A. Sherrod Blakely

Celtics winning games - and winning over Irving with late-season success

Celtics winning games - and winning over Irving with late-season success

INDIANAPOLIS -- Kyrie Irving is a six-time All-Star, one of the best late-game scorers in the NBA.

And yet there he was in the fourth quarter on Friday night, in the most important game of the Celtics season, doing the same thing you and I were doing - watching the Celtics pour on the points and in doing so, making a point in a crushing 117-97 blowout win at Indiana about a week before these two are expected to meet in a first-round playoff series. 

Not only did it all but secure home-court advantage for the Celtics when they meet the Pacers again, but it showcased both the promise and elite-level potential surrounding Irving on a night when the spotlight, for a regular0season game at least, had not been any brighter. 

And when you are the Celtics, who are trying to do their all in convincing Irving to stay long-term, these are the games that make it more difficult for him to take his talents elsewhere.

There’s no question Irving has had his share of rocky moments with the Celtics this season, whether it’s referring to “the young guys” one or two (or three or…) times too many when they screw up, or committing to re-sign with the team in October and essentially doing an about-face a few months later.

He is indeed a difficult player to figure out, for sure. 

Still, the one thing that has been constant with him during his time in Boston, is his desire to win. 

And as much as the Celtics lean on him to carry the squad on many nights, the fact that they could dominate a team as desperate as the Pacers and not need Irving to have a monster game to do so, speaks volumes about where this team is now and how far they can go. 

Boston won’t have many games in the playoffs, if any, where Irving can play just 27 minutes and that be more than enough for them to win. 

But the fact that this team has that potential and they put it together in what was easily the biggest game of the season, says a lot about this team’s growth. 

And if you sift through Irving’s comments most of the season, he has talked often about growth and its importance to this team as the season progressed. 

The way Jayson Tatum took over for stretches and maintained an elite level of aggressiveness… how Gordon Hayward is looking more like All-Star Gordon Hayward from a couple of years ago…Al Horford delivering a little bit of everything…Aron Baynes becoming Mr. Double-Double with three in his last five games...

How much all that resonates with Irving, remains to be seen. 

But if you’re the Celtics, you know for a fact it was the kind of victory that can only help their chances of keeping Irving around beyond this season, which remains Boston’s top priority. 

He is a dynamic talent who has already won an NBA title, but knows he can not win another one by himself. 

Irving knows he’ll need others to step up, step out and deliver on the biggest of stages. 

While he has caught heat at times this season for what many believe is him picking on the younger players, multiple Celtics have talked both publicly and privately about how Irving’s confidence and faith in his younger teammates have never wavered. 

“It doesn’t always come out right, what he says, but he’s got our back,” one of his teammates told NBC Sports Boston. 

It is that ultra-competitive streak in Irving that at times has made him a polarizing figure on this team, and in the eyes of opposing teams and players. 

But he desperately wants to be with a group that’s just as hungry for success and are capable of playing with that much-needed edge when it matters - a team such as the one we saw on Friday night that had him doing what we tend to do when it comes to him and the Celtics, and that’s watch it all unfold. 

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Marcus Smart's shove of Joel Embiid costs him $50,000 fine

Marcus Smart's shove of Joel Embiid costs him $50,000 fine

Not having Marcus Smart around for most of the second half of loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday night proved costly to the Celtics. 

And as we discovered Thursday, there will also be a cost to Smart — a hefty one, mind you. 

The NBA announced that Smart, who was ejected after he “forcefully” pushed Sixers center Joel Embiid in the back and to the ground in the third quarter, will be fined $50,000 for the incident. 

The league announced the higher-than-usual fine amount was due to “repeated acts of unsportsmanlike conduct during NBA games, including two prior incidents this season which have resulted in fines.”

Smart was fined $25,000 for his role in a pushing incident with Cleveland’s JR Smith during the preseason and was fined $35,000 in January for an incident involving him and Hawks guard De’Andre Bembry. 

The latest flareup involving Smart occurred in the third quarter after Embiid delivered a screen that sent Smart tumbling to the floor. 

Smart rose to his feet soon afterward and, with Embiid’s back to him, Smart ran up and delivered a two-handed push that sent Embiid to the floor. 

Players from both teams, as well as the officials, stepped in between the two to prevent the incident from escalating. 

Boston went on to lose the game 118-115, but at the time of the incident, the Celtics were ahead by double figures. 

While Smart’s absence wasn’t the reason why Boston lost the game, it stands to reason that not having their best perimeter defender around didn't help.

Still, that doesn’t make the disappointment any less for his teammates and coaching staff. 

“I’m disappointed in Marcus [Smart],” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens after the loss. “We need you; [Aron] Baynes is already out. We need him to be in the game, no matter what happened. We needed that to happen.”'

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Stars, Studs and Duds: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown step up for Celtics in win over Hawks

Stars, Studs and Duds: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown step up for Celtics in win over Hawks

BOSTON -- Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the Celtics' 129-120 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday afternoon:  

STARS
Kyrie Irving: Within seconds of the opening tip-off, Kyrie Irving drained a 3-pointer. It was that kind of night for Irving, who continued to assert control before finishing with a near triple-double of 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Trae Young: The rookie point guard continues to get better and better with time as he tallied 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field to go with four assists and four rebounds.

STUDS
Jaylen Brown: it was yet another strong night at both ends of the floor for Brown. He led all reserves with 23 points, but also drew a critical offensive foul against Vince Carter that led to a Celtics basket in the fourth which gave them some much-needed cushion which helped slow down the momentum gained by the Hawks.

John Collins: He has been one of the better young bigs in the NBA that so few are talking about. The Celtics know first-hand after Collins tallied a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday night in addition to dishing out six assists.

Jayson Tatum: He has been giving the Celtics a little bit of everything. He finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Marcus Smart: When he’s shooting as efficiently as he was Saturday, the Celtics are awfully tough to beat. Smart had 10 points and seven assists at the half before finishing with 16 points, five steals and nine assists. 

Vince Carter: The old man's still got it. Carter doesn’t amaze fans like he used to with above-the-rim theatrics, but he left no doubts about whether he still had game. Coming off the Atlanta bench, Carter had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Marcus Morris: We have the Marcus Morris from earlier this season on display the past couple of games. Against the Hawks, he had his second consecutive double-double, totaling 19 points and 11 rebounds.

DUDS
Celtics defensive boards:  The Hawks had far too many second- and third-shot opportunities, which coming into the game, was one of their strengths. The Hawks came into the game averaging 11.6 offensive rebounds, which ranked fourth in the NBA. On Saturday, the Hawks had 18 offensive rebounds, which led to 24 points for Atlanta. 

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