Kyrie Irving had an exquisite performance, and the Celtics won their fourth straight
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The TD Garden crowd is generally one of the liveliest in the league, capable of providing an instant jolt to the Celtics when they need it most. But the atmosphere during Monday’s game against the Heat was quite sleepy.
It was probably related to a cocktail that included the 6 p.m. tipoff, the holiday weekend, the low-profile opponent, the post-Patriots hangover, and the sub-zero wind-chills that can deflate anyone’s mood.
So the Celtics were forced to create their own energy, but the good news is they have enough talent to do that, and they have Kyrie Irving.
The All-Star continued his mesmerizing stretch, tallying 26 points, 10 assists, and a career-high 8 steals, leading Boston to a 107-99 win. Irving’s steal total tied him with Marcus Smart and Rajon Rondo for the most by a Celtic since Paul Pierce had nine on Dec. 3, 1999.
After Boston’s 22-point fourth-quarter lead had been whittled to just 5, mostly against the backups, Irving re-entered the game and scored three quick baskets to restore order.
“We have to play perfectly offensively when you’re dealing with Kyrie Irving on the other end,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It seemed like he made every single play. When we were trying to get the ball out of his hands, he was just brilliant at the end.”
Irving mostly shrugged when he was asked about his latest exquisite performance. When his steal total was relayed to him, he said he turned the ball over too much. When his clutch scoring was pointed out to him, he said that is what he is supposed to do.
“That’s really pretty much it,” he said. “Trying to make plays for myself and my teammates. The ball is in my hands and I’ve just got to make the right plays.”
The Celtics have won four games in a row and nine in a row at home, their longest streak here since the 2015-16 season. They will face the lowly Cavaliers on Wednesday night before the Warriors present a much more sizable challenge Saturday.
Regardless, Boston has righted itself after its three-game losing streak that was defined by finger-pointing and frustration. It is unclear if winning clears up issues, or if clearing up issues leads to winning, but the Celtics are quite pleased either way.
Although Irving’s final flurry steadied Boston, the team’s powerful third quarter was the reason it had such a large cushion. The Celtics shot 72.7 percent from the field in the quarter and outscored the Heat, 37-18. The reserves struggled in the first half, so coach Brad Stevens stuck with his starters for more than 10 minutes in the third and allowed their run to continue.
Jayson Tatum finished with 19 points and Al Horford added 16 points and 12 rebounds. Dion Waiters and Derrick Jones had 18 points apiece for the Heat, who were undone by 19 turnovers.
“This is something we talked about coming into the game,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the miscues. “When we played them in Miami, they came back in the third quarter and it was because of turnovers. We knew the formula. We just didn’t take care of our responsibilities.”
The Celtics had a crisp start, as a Tatum 3-pointer from the right arc gave them a 12-2 lead. Boston gathered offensive rebounds on four of its first six misses and turned them into 10 second-chance points. A 4-point play by Irving with 2:39 left opened up a 31-19 edge, the largest of the half.
But Boston’s reserves combined to make just 1 of their first 11 shots and Miami’s bench helped it claw back to tie the score at 50 at halftime.
The Celtics started the third quarter much like they started first. Irving found Smart for a 3-pointer just 1:50 into the period that capped a 9-0 burst. Then with Boston leading, 65-56, it went on a 19-7 run that ended with a Horford jumper that made it 84-63, its largest lead to that point.
But Stevens could not play his starters forever, and when they were taken out, much of the lead went with them.
Miami pulled within 99-94 on a Waiters stepback jumper with 4:32 left before Irving responded with a floater and two layups to stretch the lead back to 10.
“He was very aggressive,” Horford said of Irving. “He took over and it was huge. Having that kind of player and that kind of luxury where we can just let him kind of take over, it feels good.”