This is why the Boston Celtics felt so comfortable breaking up their core to acquire Kyrie Irving, and this is why the C’s look like a legitimate contender to play in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics on Monday extended their winning streak to 16 games with a dramatic 110-102 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks. Actually, check that: Irving willed the C’s to a seemingly improbable win with easily the best game of his Boston career and one of the best games of his life.
Irving’s final line: 47 points on 16-of-22 shooting (10-for-11 from the line), six assists, three rebounds and a steal. And when the Celtics needed him the most, Irving came up the biggest. He carried the team when they went cold in the second and third quarters, and his overall play was a big reason Boston erased a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
He absolutely took over in overtime, scoring 10 points and ensuring the Celtics left Big D with a W.
It’s becoming clearer and clear that the best thing to happen to the Celtics’ long-term title prospects was Irving’s mounting discontent in Cleveland that ultimately led him to force a trade from the Cavs.
The price to acquire Irving was justifiably steep, and the Celtics had to part with a beloved star in Isaiah Thomas, a solid role player in Jae Crowder, and a coveted draft/trade chip in Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick. But all of that has been worth it, at least through 18 games of the Kyrie Irving experience in Boston.
Thomas’ “King of the Fourth” moniker undoubtedly was well-deserved, and it’s important to note that any and all effusive praise of Irving doesn’t take anything away from what Thomas accomplished in Boston. The Celtics don’t sign Gordon Hayward if it wasn’t for Thomas, and having Hayward in the fold ultimately made Boston a location that enticed Irving. But Thomas simply isn’t on Irving’s level, and it’s games like Monday night’s masterpiece in Dallas that remind us of that.
For all of Thomas’ late-game success, he had his limitations. His 5-foot-9 frame made him susceptible to taking abuse at the rim, although his play indicated reckless abandon for that abuse. But his size also made it difficult for Thomas to create his own shot at the rim.
When you watch that highlight reel from Monday night, it’s easy to see what the Celtics loved so much about Irving’s game. He’s able to score from anywhere on the floor, in large part because he’s able to create space and separation. He’s able to get his own shot in a way no one — Thomas included — can in the NBA today. And when he gets that shot, he’s able to finish, whether it’s a turnaround jump shot at the foul line or a reverse layup with contact at the rim.
And where Thomas seemed to run out of gas or fall victim to tougher, more physical defense in the playoffs, there are no questions about Irving’s playoff mettle.
The Celtics’ long-term plans seemingly got pushed back a year when Hayward went down with a gruesome ankle injury on opening night. It sounds unlikely he’ll return this season. And sure, Jaylen Brown’s year-to-year progression, Jayson Tatum’s poise as a rookie and Al Horford’s renaissance all are reasons for legitimate optimism among Green Teamers. But Irving is a legitimate MVP candidate and the biggest reason why the Celtics should have the utmost confidence they’ll be able to topple Cleveland and reach the NBA Finals this season.
And that’s why they did what they had to do to get Irving.