Celtics Notes: Kyrie Irving’s Scoring Prowess Carrying Boston During Tough Stretch

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Kyrie Irving has taken his game to another level for the Boston Celtics over the last few weeks, and it has helped them maintain their lead atop the Eastern Conference standings despite a tough schedule, injuries and young players hitting the rookie wall.

Irving led the C’s with 27 points in a 111-110 win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night to close a difficult road trip at 2-2.

The veteran guard now has 38 games of 20-plus points this season, the fifth-most in the NBA. He’s scored at least 20 points in eight straight games, with an average of 28.1 points during that span.

Irving has poured in 64 points over the last two games, but it’s been his efficiency that’s most impressive. He’s connected on 24 of his 35 shot attempts in the last two contests, including a 7-for-10 mark from 3-point range.

The Celtics’ offense has ranked in the bottom third of the league in points per 100 possessions in January as injuries and scoring slumps for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others have made it tough for Boston to close out games.

The one constant, however, has been Irving, who’s 25 points, 6.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game in January account for his best all-around month of the season.

The Celtics need Irving to maintain this efficient scoring pace until the rest of the offense improves and/or management makes a move for more offense ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

Here are some other notes from Celtics vs. Nuggets:

— Celtics have won six of their last eight against the Nuggets, including a sweep of the season series.

— Tatum has hit the “rookie wall” this month. After scoring less than 10 points in just six of Boston’s first 40 games, he’s scored less than 10 four times in 11 January games. Monday night was a step in the right direction, though, as Tatum scored 20 points for the first time since Christmas Day. Tatum shot 8-for-13 against the Nuggets while adding six rebounds and four assists.

This drive to the basket was the highlight of his performance:

–Marcus Morris has provided valuable scoring off the bench of late. He scored 14 points on 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the arc, giving him eight straight games with double-digit points. Morris wasn’t his normal self in the beginning of the season because of a knee injury, but he appears to be close to full strength right now given his energy and ability to play close to 30 minutes. The one game in 10 days early in the month seems to have given Morris a boost.

— Daniel Theis’ improved range since the beginning of the season has been an encouraging sign for the C’s. The German rookie has proven to be a solid defender and rebounder, but if he can knock down 3-point shots consistently, he’ll really improve the Celtics’ spacing on offense.

— The C’s bench hasn’t been great over the last month, but Theis, Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Terry Rozier poured in 39 points combined versus Denver. The bench also hit on 10 of 17 3-point shots.

— Rozier, who was playing on a bad ankle, tied a season-high with nine rebounds and tied a career-high with six assists. He also scored eight points.

— Monday’s trade between the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons highlighted by Blake Griffin going East prompted this interesting note from ESPN’s J.A. Adande.

The Celtics did not have a 2009 first-round draft pick.

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