This had to be what the Boston Celtics envisioned when they traded for Kyrie Irving: the star guard taking over with the game on the line in the playoffs, leading the C’s in their pursuit of another championship banner.
Irving hadn’t been able to deliver on that vision until Wednesday night’s 99-91 Game 2 come-from-behind win over the Indiana Pacers. Irving’s path to this point with the C’s hasn’t always been picturesque, but in the moments when Irving rose to the occasion to pour in a game-high 37 points, he was pretty much picture perfect.
“It’s just been a long journey from having those two knee surgeries and watching the team last year,” Irving said, “and finally getting the chance to lace them up for the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs, there’s nothing like it.”
Even though there is sure to be more scrutiny on Irving when he makes his decision in the near future to either stay in Boston or bolt for another team, it hasn’t weighed Irving down on the court. Irving dazzled with a stunning performance versus the Pacers, shooting 15-of-26 from the floor to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. And in the game’s most critical junctures, with the C’s trailing by 12 points early in the fourth quarter, Irving seemed at ease – a state that he hasn’t necessarily been in too often this season – in bringing the Celtics back.
“It was pretty peaceful,” said Irving of his performance. “I’m just happy to be able to be part of a lineage of great players that have put on some unbelievable performances here in the TD (Garden) as well as the old Garden. It’s really special to know that the fans here they’re rooting us on and they want everything to be perfect. It’s just not the reality of the game, but we do our best to go out there and really lay it all on the line. We throw ourselves into the game and we hope for some great results. You just got have some honest resolve. It felt good. It felt good to be here in this position, playing in this arena.”
Irving’s stellar night got off to a good start with 18 points over the first 24 minutes, but star players aren’t remembered for first-half performances. In the fourth quarter, Irving came up clutch.
Irving first watched from the bench as the C’s fell behind, 82-70, 40 seconds into the final frame and when Brad Stevens put Irving back into the contest with 7:35 left, the deficit had been trimmed to four and Irving knew exactly what to do next.
Irving buried a deep 3-pointer behind an Al Horford screen to get within one before drilling another trifecta to put the C’s in front. On the next offensive possession, poor Wesley Matthews didn’t have a chance against Irving. Irving got to the exact spot he wanted to get to on the floor and drained a 10-foot jumper as Irving’s eight straight points capped a 16-0 run.
“Kyrie was incredible in coming back,” Stevens said. “When he gets on a run like that, he’s going to draw even more attention than he already draws, which is as much as anybody draws in the league. In the last couple minutes of the game, he just made the right play.”
With performances like he had in Game 2, it showcases why the Celtics brass wanted to get Irving to Boston. He elevates the team to another level and it has C’s fans dreaming of more, and again, it’s all up to Irving to deliver on that. He certainly has the opportunity to own Boston’s playoff run, for better or worse.