Kyrie Irving calmly drilled two crushing 3s, and Celtics won their seventh straight game
WASHINGTON — As Kyrie Irving walked through the bowels of the arena and toward the Celtics’ bus after yet another stirring performance, he came across a young fan who asked him to autograph a jersey.
Irving didn’t flinch as he grabbed a pen and signed it, even though it was a No. 2 John Wall Wizards jersey. For Irving, it didn’t elicit any bad memories on this night.
About 45 minutes earlier, Irving had stared straight at the Wall jersey worn by Wall himself and drilled two crushing 3-pointers over his fellow All-Star’s outstretched hand, sending Boston to a 130-125 overtime win.
“I feel like I missed some easy ones throughout the game that were just very makable shots from the 3-point line,” Irving said. “And then down the stretch, it’s winning time.”
Irving finished with 38 points and scored the Celtics’ final 12 points over the game’s final three minutes. The last two came at the free throw line, as he was serenaded by “MVP!” chants from the crowd at this green-tinted road arena.
On Nov. 24, the Celtics lost to the Mavericks to fall to 10-10. Fan angst soared, sports talk shows piled on, and players even openly admitted that maybe they were not as good as they once thought.
That seems like a distant memory now. The Celtics have won seven games in a row, the longest current streak in the NBA, and they have surged back among the Eastern Conference’s other powerful teams.
They now trail the second-place Bucks and 76ers by just one game, and they have reached this point despite missing key pieces throughout their run.
“Going 10-10 and then having that switch where it’s just like, ‘OK, we’re a veteran group, let’s be one,’ ” Irving said. “ ‘Let’s not just talk about being a good team; let’s talk every single day about, how do we work toward being a great team?’ ”
The Celtics remained undermanned Wednesday. Al Horford missed his third consecutive game because of left knee pain, and Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown were sidelined with illnesses. But others stepped in and stepped up.
Marcus Morris had 27 points and nine rebounds and Marcus Smart added 18 points and five rebounds, though two should come with an asterisk. He soared in for two offensive boards near the start of overtime, helping turn a 1-point deficit into a 4-point lead.
The Celtics were 25 for 25 from the foul line, their first perfect mark when shooting at least 25 free throws since they went 35 for 35 on April 12, 1990.
Wall had 34 points and 13 assists to lead Washington, but it was somewhat of an odd game for him. For 3½ quarters he continually passed up chances to attack the rim — his specialty — in favor of pull-up jumpers. Then midway through the fourth quarter he started to charge toward the basket — partly because of Boston’s smaller lineup — and he could not be stopped. Over the last 12 minutes, Wall made all eight of his layups. He had just one in the 41 minutes that preceded that.
Wall’s dunk with 23 seconds left in regulation pulled the Wizards within 111-110. The shot clock was off, and as the Wizards avoided fouling Irving, he raced upcourt and found Jayson Tatum for a dunk to stretch the lead to 3.
The Celtics elected to foul Bradley Beal rather than allow the Wizards to attempt a 3-pointer. Beal made the first attempt and missed the second, but he tracked down his own miss and put in a layup to tie the score.
Coach Brad Stevens said the Celtics fouled in part because Washington was out of timeouts while the Celtics were not, giving Boston a chance to advance the ball in fouling situations.
“We’re still in control of the game,” Stevens said, “if we block out the shooter.”
Irving then missed a tough layup as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
With the Wizards leading in the extra session, 114-113, Tatum missed a shot, but Smart soared in for the rebound and fired it to Terry Rozier for a 3-pointer. Then after a Morris miss, Smart once again swooped in and converted a putback layup.
The Celtics led, 120-114, before Wall made consecutive baskets inside. But he fell to the ground in pain after the second. He limped to the bench before returning, but neither he nor anyone else could stop Irving.
With less than 40 seconds remaining and the Wizards leading, 123-122, Irving took possession in the left corner with Wall defending him closely, and calmly drilled a 3-pointer with a hand in his face, putting Boston ahead by 2 points.
After Wall tied the score at 125 with another layup, Irving dribbled well beyond the top of the key, briefly sized up Wall, and then drained a 31-footer before Wall could offer much resistance. Irving said he was focused on getting arc on it so that if he missed, his teammates could gather a rebound. But that wasn’t necessary.
“I mean, those last two shots were amazing,” Stevens said. “The one in front of our bench was a joke how tough that was. He made it look easy.”
Beal and Wall both missed potential tying 3-pointers at the other end, and Irving closed out the win at the foul line.