CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Chants of “M.V.P” reverberated inside the Wizards’ home venue. The All-Star point guard dazzled the crowd with stylish plays and gutsy choices. He stumped the opposition by sinking shots with defenders offering no ground.
Such proclamations from the masses made sense, except they weren’t for hometown hero John Wall.
Kyrie Irving stole the show. The Celtics star and burgeoning team leader dropped the Wizards with 12 of his 38 points coming in overtime. He left Scott Brooks dumbfounded after hitting two crushing 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds as Washington fell 130-125 Wednesday night.
“Great players make great shots, amazing shots (in big moments),” said Brooks with a tone of a head coach yet to fully process how Irving downed his side.
Other players shredded Washington’s defense this season. Often that occurred because the Wizards lacked energy and defensive connectivity. Despite a few lapses at times, that wasn’t the case in the first meeting of the season between the two Eastern Conference rivals. Against Irving, even the tiniest of cracks were exploited.
Irving didn’t just score 12 in the extra period, but Boston’s final dozen points in the Celtics’ seventh consecutive win. Half came on a pair of bombs.
“He makes one, maybe it’s a different game. He made both, it’s tough to overcome,” Brooks said after Washington’s losing streak reached three games. “It was a great game. We fought. It could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
With the Wizards leading 123-122, Irving nearly fumbled the ball away on the left wing with Wall nearly nose-to-nose. The NBA’s best ball-handler corraled the attempted runaway, rose and drained the heavily contested 3-pointer.
After Wall tied the game with one of his numerous faster-than-fast driving layups, Irving put the Celtics up for good with a 31-footer that found the bottom of the net with 17.3 seconds left.
“Just trying to win the game, honestly, trying to get enough separation,” said Irving, who sat out Boston's previous game with a shoulder injury. “Three points are pretty much a dagger, so I just tried to get my feet set and get my elbow pointed to the rim. It was a little deep out, but a very makeable shot."
Despite the tension-filled scenario, nobody could be stunned Irving delivered.
“He’s always had a knack for that,” Brooks said of the player that sank the series-winning shot for the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Leadership wasn’t always a breeze for Irving, the No. 1 overall pick the year after Washington selected Wall first in 2010. He bolted Cleveland in the summer of 2017 after three seasons of highs and frustrations with LeBron James. Wall held the face-of-the-franchise status with the Wizards. Irving would get his turn with the storied Celtics.
The scoring and playmaking comes naturally. Playing the role of team tone-setter takes work. The evolution isn’t complete.
"It’s an everyday job. It’s part of kind of the next step of evolution for me in my career, of just learning what that means for me and what type of leader I want to be,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround on the campus of Georgetown University.
“He’s always been good about [leadership],” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said or Irving. "When he first came in, I thought he did a great job of just kinda fitting in and making sure that everybody, 1 through 15, knows that he’s invested in them. And that’s all you can do from a leadership standpoint. It starts with being authentic, it starts with investing in people. Then you have a chance to go from there and he’s done all that stuff.”
Irving sought guidance, but wouldn’t reveal identities.
"I will never tell you guys. Never tell you guys,” he said. "I like having a mystical wisdom feel, older board of people I like to go to.”
He did disclose their teachings.
"Patience. Patience. Patience,” Irving said. "Even for myself, I think at this point in my career it’s not necessarily about my skills or my talent, it’s more about how do I echo greatness to our group every single day and figure out what that looks like for us. That’s been the biggest challenge for me.”
Stars are often thrust into leadership roles regardless of their acumen for the gig.
"You see it all the time,” Irving said. “I think it’s a little unfair to have that responsibility but the ones that are meant for it are willing to accept it and figure out how they learn best leading a group and just being the best player,” said Irving. "It’s easy to go out and score 27 points, go get it and nothing else really matters and you’re just caring about yourself.
"When you have to care about a whole entire group, really depend on just learning who you’re playing with every single day, who is coaching you, that relationship, that’s far more important to me now that it is just being able to be the young guy fourth year in the league trying to get a bunch of points and assists and be in the top standings. As long as we’re winning and we’re up in the top of the teams and my teammates are feeling good, I’m happy.”
Even with work remaining, Irving’s growth stood out to one of his biggest rivals.
“Kyrie has always been a great scorer, a great player,” said Wall, who had 34 points and 13 assists. “A lot of people didn’t know if he had leadership ability to lead by himself. He’s doing a heck of a job with other great players over there and a great coach.”
The Wizards did a credible job against Irving and the Celtics. Just not enough to avoid the other team’s point guard from carrying the day.
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