Kyrie Irving is unreal in crunch time.
The Celtics guard orchestrated a 9-0 run down the stretch, including a dagger three-pointer in Kawhi Leonard’s face to give Boston a much-needed victory over the Raptors 117-108 on Wednesday. The Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak with the home win and may have smoothed over some recent locker room issues in the process. Toronto saw its five-game winning streak end.
Irving finished with 27 points and 18 rebounds and outdueled Leonard, who finished with 33 points, in the final moments. The Celtics looked disjointed early in the game, but the bench unit kept the team afloat. Gordon Hayward, who continues to rehab from his gruesome injury last season, scored 16 points in the first half. He finished with 18 points and five assists. Boston’s bench was responsible for 34 points in the first half.
The Celtics coughed up their lead late in the fourth quarter after Leonard hit a baseline jump shot, but that’s when Irving responded.
Irving, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier were among Boston players who aired out the team’s recent struggles in the media. The Celtics botched a sequence at the end of the game against Orlando and Irving was visibly frustrated with Hayward and Jayson Tatum. Then, there was the implosion against the Nets. The Celtics needed a big win to get back on track.
Boston’s team defense needs to get back to its early-season levels. The Celtics were the second-best defensive team according to NBA.com/stats defensive rating through the team’s first 28 games. In the last 15 games before Wednesday’s win, Boston slipped to 10th in defensive rating.
Irving will continue to carry the team offensively late in games, but the Celtics will need Hayward and Tatum to continue to produce to get back to contention status in the Eastern Conference. Tatum tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds against Toronto. Al Horford found his groove against Toronto as well. He racked up 24 points and provided the finishing touches in the victory.
Boston will have to keep winning to avoid relapsing into finger-pointing mode again. The Celtics got on the right path Wednesday night.