DALLAS — If there were any questions left as to why the Celtics gave up so much for Kyrie Irving, including Isaiah Thomas, he dissipated those doubters Monday against the Mavericks.
Irving scored 47 points as the Celtics won their 16th consecutive game, 110-102 in overtime, a victory that seemed highly unlikely when they trailed by 13 points with 7:47 left.
With the Celtics’ winning streak at stake, and his teammates scuffling, Irving carried the Celtics into overtime, then scored the team’s first three buckets in the extra session.
Irving has talked team-first throughout his short tenure in Boston, and he didn’t crow about performance. He admitted, however, that he’s highly motivated to score critical baskets late in games.
“A few years ago I would have told you I was trying to get 40,” he said. “But it just happens, happens in the flow of the game.”
To flourish in situations like these is one of the primary reasons why Irving embraced the opportunity to come to Boston.
“He’s got every move imaginable,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Irving, “but on top of that, he’s one of the best shooters in the league. I think sometimes everybody gets caught up in the moves and the dribbling and the different things he can do with the ball, but his touch is beautiful. He’s got every bit of the game you could have.”
For Irving, games like these are fun.
“I don’t really see it as a pressure situation,” he said. “It’s just like being in the park and it’s 7-7 and game is 8 and someone calls ‘win by 2’ and you call ‘(win) straight up.’ That’s when the defense just starts to crank up. I don’t want to say the NBA is like playing at the park but for me I see it as fun basketball.”
Nights like these aren’t that enjoyable for Stevens, who watched as counterpart Rick Carlisle used a number of tactics (zone defense, small lineup) to throw off the Celtics. His schemes nearly worked.
“Of all the comebacks, that one did not look [like it would happen] for a long time,” Stevens said. “We found a way to win it.”
The Celtics were down, 87-74, with about eight minutes left after former Celtic Dwight Powell streaked for a layup on a crisp pass by Yogi Ferrell, a play typifying the Celtics’ defensive breakdowns most of the evening.
Instead of relenting, the Celtics chipped away: a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer, free throws from Irving, a 3-point play from Marcus Morris and long 3-pointer by Irving, set up by Marcus Smart’s relentlessness.
It’s the type of sequence that has been a microcosm of the Celtics season.
“We’re unwavering in our approach and I think we’ve been that way [during the streak],” Irving said. “The last few games we’ve been down and we just continue to stick together. We demand excellence from one another.”
The Celtics led by as as many 15 in the first half. Stevens then sat Irving and Al Horford, and the Celtics lost the lead — they were chasing the rest of the way.
Barnes was bullying his way to baskets while former Northeastern standout J.J. Barea was attacking the basket with his speed. After scoring 34 points in the first period, Boston scored 35 over the next two quarters, shooting 29 percent in that span.
For 8 minutes 18 seconds over the second and third quarters, Irving was the only Celtic to hit a shot. He received help in the fourth quarter when Tatum, Brown, and Smart each hit multiple baskets. Smart, who missed his first seven 3-point attempts, hit his first of the period and then added another to bring the Celtics within 2 points with 1:29 left in regulation.
Tatum tied the score with an alley-oop with 1:01 left in the quarter.