By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kyrie Irving’s incredible first season with the Celtics continues to get even more incredible.
We’ve been treated to nightly magic shows from the point guard, and though it’s hard to believe, he’s actually elevated his offensive game in Boston’s four games following the All-Star break. Wednesday night’s performance was perhaps his most dominating offensive showing of the season.
On a night when the Celtics were on fire offensively, hitting 62 percent of their shots, Irving was otherworldly. He dropped 34 points on the Charlotte Hornets on 13-for-18 shooting, and he needed just 24 minutes to do so. He took the floor determined to score, putting in 16 of his points in the first quarter. Even when Nicolas Batum was able to block an Irving jumper, a rare occurrence, the guard got his own miss and calmly sunk a 15-footer. He finished with 24 points in the first half as he dueled with Charlotte All-Star Kemba Walker (who had 21 points at the break), and had plenty more highlights left in his bag of tricks in his abbreviated second half.
Let’s head to the middle of the third quarter for the latest installment of Irving’s nightly wizardry. With Walker on him and the shot clock winding down, Irving lost his dribble. He pivoted to the left, then back to the right. The move didn’t create much space against Walker, but that was no issue for Irving, who drained an absurd fadeaway:
He added a few deep threes in the frame, finishing 4-for-6 from downtown, and checked out with just over two minutes left in the third. He watched the rest of the blowout victory from the bench for the second straight game.
Irving has now scored 30 or more in three of his last five games, and his four games stretch following the break is one of his best of the season. He’s averaging 27 points on 54 percent shooting from the floor (and 52 percent from three-point range) to go with six assists, six rebounds and just 1.5 turnovers. In the last two games, he’s dropped 57 points on 21-for-31 shooting with 10 rebounds and 10 assists — in just 49 minutes.
That’s an absolutely ridiculous stretch, and a big reason the Celtics have won four straight out of the All-Star break.
“He’s very locked in,” C’s head coach Brad Stevens said after Wednesday’s win. “He went into the break hurting a little bit for how we play it. I think that that was a shared – a feeling shared by all of us, on how our team performed on the last few days leading up to the break, and I thought that he hopefully had time to relax and kind of get away for a minute. But clearly when we came back on Wednesday, we were ready to go, and he was as locked in as anybody.”
Irving said the team’s pace is the biggest reason they’re playing some of their best basketball as they enter the stretch run of the season.
“We simplified some things and being able to read and react on the fly and play with a high intense effort for longer period of time,” he said. “Coming out of [the All-Star break], I think that for the first few games we’ve done a great job at responding and we just want to keep it up because the season definitely doesn’t end tomorrow. We have a lot more games to consistently get better and I’m looking forward to it.”
Irving appeared frustrated with Boston’s play heading into the break, when they lost three straight, and he’s elevated his game to a whole new level as we hit the stretch run of the season. That seemed impossible after his strong start to the season, but here we are, witnessing Boston’s best player playing his best basketball. It’s a ridiculous stretch that he can’t possibly keep up. Then again, not many figured Irving could raise his game to this other stratosphere.
Next up for Irving and the Celtics is a rematch against the Western Conference-leading Houston Rockets, a team they erased a 26-point deficit against back in December en route to a thrilling victory. Irving will go head-to-head with MVP candidate James Harden in a Saturday night track meet of who can break more ankles on national television.
Just imagine what Irving has in his bag of tricks for that one.