The Dallas Mavericks became the most recent victim Monday night, as the Celtics rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull out a 110-102 overtime victory, fueled by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving’s spectacular efficient, season-high 47-point performance.
It marked the eighth comeback win during Boston’s streak, which is three games shy of tying the franchise record set during the 2008-09 season. The Celtics trailed by double digits in five of those comebacks, including their past three games, when they trailed the Golden State Warriors by 17, the Atlanta Hawks by 16 and the Mavericks by 13 before pulling out wins.
“Teams make their runs and we just stay the course,” Irving said after single-handedly outscoring the Mavs by a 17-12 margin in the final 12:47 of the game. “We’re just unwavering in our approach, and I think that we’ve been that way. In the last few games, we’ve been down quite a few, so for us it’s just about battling back when teams get a comfortable rhythm, whether it’d be in the first half or the second half. As a group, we continue just to stick together throughout anything and everything.”
Irving, playing with a clear plastic mask to protect the minor facial fractures he suffered earlier this month, followed up a 30-point performance in Saturday’s win over the Hawks by becoming the first Boston player since Larry Bird to score 45-plus points while shooting 70 percent or higher from the floor, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Irving’s 47 points in Dallas came on 16-of-22 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. He scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in overtime, continuing a run of clutch dominance that’s impressive even by the standards of a superstar whose résumé features a Game 7-winning jumper in the NBA Finals.
The Mavericks had the Celtics on their heels Monday night, but once overtime started, it was all Kyrie Irving.
According to NBA.com statistics, Irving leads the NBA with 65 points on 24-of-39 shooting (61.5 percent) in clutch situations, as defined by the final five minutes of regulation or overtime with the score within five points. Portland’s Damian Lillard ranks second with 55 clutch points; Cleveland’s LeBron James is third with 41. The Celtics have outscored opponents by a league-high 44 points in 49 clutch minutes, including plus-40 in the 38 minutes with Irving on the floor.
Those numbers are actually bogged down a bit by the Celtics’ 0-2 start before their run. Irving has 62 points on 23-of-32 shooting (71.9 percent) during the winning streak. The Celtics are plus-55 in the 28 clutch minutes Irving has played during that span, plus-59 in 38 clutch minutes overall during the streak.
“It’s just fun, man. Just fun, that’s it,” said Irving, who has outscored opponents 36-34 in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime over the past three games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. “It’s pretty simple. I don’t really see it as a pressure situation. It’s just like playing basketball, man. It’s just like being in a park 7-7 and game is 8. Someone else calls win by two and you’re calling straight up. That’s when the defense just starts to crank up and you see some unbelievable plays.
“I don’t want to say that the NBA’s like playing at the park, but for me, I kind of just see it as that fun basketball. Just being out there, the fans are into it, especially when you’re on the road or you’re at home. And it’s just a fun environment, but you don’t want to always be in that situation. But if it is warranted for you to kind of be in that situation and you got to take over, that’s what you do.”
The Celtics on Monday became the first team in the league this season to win after trailing by double digits with five minutes remaining in regulation. The Mavs led by 10 with five minutes remaining, but the Celtics closed the fourth quarter with a 17-7 run.
Boston trailed by 13 points with a little more than seven minutes remaining, the largest fourth-quarter deficit the Celtics have overcome this season.
Asked how the Celtics keep pulling off big comebacks, coach Brad Stevens quipped: “Because we’re always behind.”
Despite having the worst record in the league, the Mavericks took the NBA-best Celtics down to the wire.
“We’ve got to play better,” Stevens said. “We know that, but I do think we’ve been saying that kind of like a broken record. I do think we can take a step back and appreciate that comeback pretty good. Obviously, Kyrie made all those plays, but we had a number of effort plays there late that kind of kept us around.”
Stevens specifically cited a spectacular hustle play by reserve guard Marcus Smart. After stealing a Harrison Barnes pass in the backcourt, Smart fought for a rebound of his own missed layup and, while falling out of bounds, found Irving wide-open at the top of the arc. Irving swished the 3-pointer, cutting Dallas’ lead in half with 2:58 remaining.
The Mavs scored the first four points of the overtime period before Irving took over. Irving, whom Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called “as tough a cover with the ball as there is in the world” before the game, scored off the dribble on the next three possessions, driving for a finger roll, hitting a floater off the glass and knocking down a pull-up 19-footer. Irving’s layup off a back-to-the-basket move with 48.5 seconds left served as the dagger.
“Obviously, he’s got every move imaginable, but then on top of that, he’s one of the best shooters in the league,” Stevens said. “I think sometimes everybody gets caught up in the moves and the dribbling and different things he can do with the ball, but his touch is beautiful with both hands. He draws a lot of attention. We didn’t convert like we have on other days, but yeah, he’s got every bit of the game you could have. He’s got it.”
Celtics fans in the American Airlines Center crowd showered him with “MVP!” chants as Irving iced the game with a pair of free throws, putting the finishing touches on his 12th career 40-plus-point performance.
“The best answer for that is just called upon,” Irving said when asked why he was able to score 47 against the Mavs, the fourth-highest-scoring outing of his career. “That’d be the best answer. I think if you asked me that question probably a few years ago, I probably would tell you that I would definitely be trying to get 40, but just happens. It happened in the flow of the game, understanding where spacing is, where the shot’s going to come and when it’s time to put the foot on the gas pedal.”