Kyrie Irving’s late-game heroics led the Boston Celtics past the Toronto Raptors, 123-116, in overtime Friday at the TD Garden.
When an artist or a writer creates a work of genius, it is a solitary process without audience or fanfare. The greatest, most uplifting, part of sports is that when a genius connects to the God Flow, we all can witness the glorious act of creation.
On Friday night, as Kyrie Irving revealed his vision on the hardwood, even his worst detractors stood in awe of his power. The rest reveled in the rare opportunity to share in Irving’s authentic artistic expression.
When Ainge traded two beloved players for Kyrie Irving, he must have envisioned games like Friday. Games where Irving’s basketball brilliance is called upon and limitless possibilities emerge from the ether, authored by a master craftsman enjoying his gift.
Irving scored 43 points–including 23 points in the fourth quarter and overtime–to lead Boston past the Toronto Raptors, 123-116, in what felt like not just a playoff game, but an Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
And Irving showed exactly what he’s capable when the stakes are highest, if anybody had short-term memory loss and had somehow forgotten.
From the tip off, you could tell Irving was juiced up for a Friday night game, on ESPN, against Boston’s biggest threat on the road to the NBA Finals. If pressure makes diamonds than Irving is the crown jewel.
The Celtics point guard poured in 12 first-quarter points, making 5-of-7 shots, and played with a trance-like focus that portended spectacular things to come. If only we knew.
Boston led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, but let Toronto back in the game before half. In the third quarter, the offense stagnated and the defensive intensity waned as the shots weren’t falling.
The Raptors retook the lead early in the third quarter and held that lead until almost midway through the fourth quarter when Irving communed with the hoops gods.
Irving reentered the game in fourth quarter with just over 10 minutes remaining, earlier than he usually does, with the Celtics trailing by eight, 86-78. He immediately hit a deep fadeaway deuce to reannounce his presence.
On the next play, Jayson Tatum swiped a lazy entry pass to Kawhi Leonard and went coast-to-coast for a Eurostep finger roll finish. On the play after that, Irving drew two defenders in the pick-and-roll and fed Tatum on time for an easy corner three, cutting the Toronto lead to three, 88-85.
Then, Irving made an unbelievable defense play himself, reaching in and tying up Leonard in transition for a jump ball. It was the type of defensive forethought and anticipation that only Marcus Smart is consistently capable of.
Tatum came down with possession after the jump ball and Irving made two free throws when Fred Van Vleet fouled him. On the next Celtics possession, Irving canned a three-pointer from well beyond the arc on the left wing when nobody stepped up to contest off the screen , tying the game at 90.
Boston took the lead on the next play when Irving grabbed a defensive rebound and scooted coast-to-coast, using sweet english off the glass to finish over two defenders. When Irving drilled a shimmy turnaround over Danny Green in the post on the next possession, it was clear that Irving was possessed by a (Blue) Devil, sent to the Earth to cleanse Boston of its basketball sins this season with the volcanic fires of Mt. Vesuvius.
Of course, hot molten lava was still bubbling under the surface. With three minutes remaining in regulation, Irving sank a pull up at the right elbow, then drove deep into the lane, finishing with his left hand off the glass to pull Boston within one, 102-101.
A finger roll with two minutes returned the deficit to one, 104-103. With under a minute left, Irving dropped it off to Tatum in transition, allowing the second-year forward to drive in for an uncontested dunk to cut it 107-105.
After a perfect defensive possession against Leonard, Gordon Hayward was fouled on the rebound and made both free throws to tie the game and force overtime when Leonard missed at the buzzer.
Once overtime rolled around, the result seemed inevitable. On this night, Irving seduced the Three Goddesses of Fate with his art and even Zeus stood powerless against him.
For good measure, Irving added four points and three assists in the extra period, dropping consecutive dimes to Al Horford to seal the victory and etch his signature on one of the TD Garden’s greatest performances.
According to Basketball Reference, Paul Pierce is the only other Celtics player to score 40 points and record a double-double at the TD Garden. He did it three times, but never with assists.
Irving became just the third Boston Celtic since assists were tracked to record at least 40 points and 10 assists–and the only one to do so in fewer than 40 minutes of playing time. One, you’ll be able to guess. The other? Probably not.
Irving is used to having historical statistical outputs, so he’s probably gotten used to painting masterpieces, but this one must feel different. After serving as an apprentice to LeBron James in Cleveland, Irving finally has a clean canvas to fill with his choice of colors.
The former second-chair wanted the freedom to create in his own style, but paradoxically, with that freedom comes a responsibility.
After a surprisingly close call with the Phoenix Suns on November 9, Irving told reporters:
We’re going to be okay. We’re going to be fine. I’m going to make sure of it.
On Friday night, Irving was a man of his word, making sure the Celtics got a much-needed win against the Raptors. And in that win, Irving may also have awakened within his team the creative confidence and common cause needed to generate further magic.
The win Friday was just one page in the long and celebrated Book of Kyrie, but it may be the beginning of a new chapter for the Boston Celtics.