Star players make a difference in the NBA, and if you need proof of that, all you need to do is look at the Boston Celtics’ last two games.
Celtics star point guard Kyrie Irving missed Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a left quad contusion, and the result was a 108-85 loss to one of the worst teams in the league.
While Irving’s absence is no excuse to lose to a rebuilding team by 23, the difference the 25-year-old makes for the Celtics was on full display in Wednesday night’s 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets at TD Garden.
Irving returned from his one-game hiatus to score 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including going 4-for-9 from long distance.
The Duke product seemed to get everything he wanted against the Nuggets, as he was able to get into the lane at will against Denver’s tired defense. The Nuggets tried everything they could to slow down Irving, including trapping him off the pick-and-roll. But none of it worked, as Miles Plumlee and Trey Lyles were too slow getting to the trap, allowing Irving to easily break contain.
Boston looked inexperienced in the loss to the Bulls without its star, but Irving’s presence in the lineup Wednesday appeared to ignite the rest of the team. Jaylen Brown (26 points), Aron Baynes (17 points), Jayson Tatum (15 points) and Shane Larkin (14 points) all elevated their games and C’s shot a season-best 59.5 percent from the floor with Irving back in the lineup.
Irving continues to do whatever the Celtics need him to do to get the win.
In his first 15 games as a member of the C’s, the dynamic guard scored 30 points or more just once, choosing instead to play facilitator to a young team during a 16-game winning streak.
But as the season has worn on, and his young teammates go through the typical peaks and valleys of an NBA season, Irving has put more of the offensive responsibility on himself.
On Wednesday night, Irving scored 30 or more points for the seventh time in the last 13 games while also dishing out seven assists.
Boston acquired Irving to be the difference-maker it was missing, and with each game, he’s proving he’s just that.
Here are more notes from Celtics-Nuggets:
— The Celtics scored a season-high 124 points against the Nuggets on Wednesday. They also had their highest-scoring quarter of the season, a 38-point second frame.
— Tatum bounced back from a rough night against the Bulls to score 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
— Larkin went 6-for-6 from the field. He and Daniel Theis were a team-leading plus-14 on the night.
— The C’s 59.5 percent shooting night was their best since shooting 60 percent in a win over the Orlando Magic in 2013. That was Brad Steven’s eighth game as head coach.
— Gordon Hayward had his boot removed Wednesday and is ready for the next step in his rehab.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images