BOSTON (CBS) — Christmas Day was a special one for Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.
It wasn’t just that it was Christmas Day, which is pretty special to a lot of people. And it wasn’t that the Celtics hosted a game on Christmas Day, which the storied franchise has done just once before.
Tuesday was a special day for Irving because he had the rare opportunity to showcase his skills in front of his extended family, with a slew of his uncles, aunts and close friends getting a chance to see him play live for the first time since he was a kid growing up in New Jersey. The C’s guard did not disappoint either, dropping 40 points to lead Boston to a thrilling 121-114 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I came into the locker room and said my family is here to watch me play,” Irving said after the win. “I told my teammates, ‘I’ve got like 20-plus people from my family here, so I’m acting up. Like you guys have no idea, I’m so excited.’ I never really have a chance to have my family all in one place, or most of my family, for that matter. So, it means a lot to me.”
Irving had a chance to show all his loved ones his arsenal with a 25-point performance during Sunday night’s 119-103 win over the Charlotte Hornets in Boston. But he saved his biggest gifts for Tuesday night, hitting key shot after key shot while displaying his usual late-game heroics for the Celtics.
With Irving on the bench in the fourth quarter, the Celtics found themselves trialing by seven points after a furious run by the 76ers. That quickly changed after No. 11 checked back in, as Kyrie started a 10-3 Boston run with a difficult layup. The game went back-and-forth over the final five minutes, with another tough Irving layup giving the C’s a 106-105 lead with 1:29 left.
But the goose wasn’t even on the table at that point. After a feverish minute of action, a Wilson Chandler three gave the 76ers a 108-106 advantage with 36 seconds on the clock.
That’s when Irving broke out a special move from his stocking. He was blanketed behind the arc by defensive stalwart Jimmy Butler, who wasn’t about to give up a game-winning shot on Christmas Day. So Irving put on some nice dance moves to try and create space, eventually backing Butler down into the paint. He had enough space after a few more fancy dribbles and put up a fade away, receiving a wonderful Christmas gift by way of friendly bounce off the rim. The ball bounced up softly before coming down through the nylon, tying everything up at 108-08 with 20.9 seconds remaining.
The way Irving was going Tuesday night, his family, friends, fans, the 76ers and his Celtics teammates knew that shot was going to fall.
“I’m about used to it now,” Boston forward Marcus Morris said of Irving’s game-tying shot. “When he first came, it was crazy. But some of the [stuff] don’t even surprise me no more with how often he does it. “I knew [it would go in]. I’ve seen it already. I’ve seen it a lot of times.”
Philadelphia jumped out to a five point lead to open overtime and were up by two when Irving took over once again. This time he used his long-range attack, draining back-to-back three pointers over a 32-second span to give Boston a six-point advantage, 118-114, with 1:29 left.
The 76ers didn’t have any answers after Irving canned his running pull-up from beyond the arc, going scoreless the rest of the way, and the Celtics walked off the floor with their second straight victory. At 20-13 on the season, Boston is now a game behind Philadelphia for the four-seed in the Eastern Conference standing.
Irving was masterful once again, hitting 17 of his 33 shots to go along with his 10 assists and six rebounds. It was the first 40-point, 10-assist showing of his career. He made clutch baskets when the Celtics needed them most, which really shouldn’t be all too surprising anymore. He’s made a career out of it, and even his Celtics teammates aren’t phased by his clutch performances anymore.
But what made Tuesday so special for Irving was being able to do his thing — rather, “act up” — in front of his extended family for the first time in a long time.
“My sacrifice, not being around my family as much, not having the time to be invested with them. I’m glad I had this time, this moment for Christmas to spend it with them,” said Irving.