Rozier's steal was the highlight, but Kyrie Irving was again the Celtics' hero
With two late 3-pointers, Irving overtook LeBron for most clutch points on the season
It wasn't quite Larry Bird picking off Isiah Thomas before dropping it underneath to D.J. in the 1987 Eastern Conference finals, but within the context of this season, the steal Terry Rozier made in Indianapolis on Tuesday to save the Celtics won't be forgotten any time soon.
After leading by as many 19, Boston found itself trailing by one with less than 10 seconds to play. The Pacers had the ball out of bounds. They got it in cleanly, then got it back in the hands of Bojan Bogdanovic, who shoots free throws at better than an 86-percent clip. He should've held the ball and let Boston foul him. Instead, he did this:
Pacers Throw it away and Terry Rozier wins it with the dunk! pic.twitter.com/iIj86eLkpl— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) December 19, 2017
This was a terrific play by Rozier. Run that clip back and you'll see that he was at the free-throw line as Bogdanovic was about to release the pass. He picked it off at half court. That's a ton of ground to cover, and indeed, when Boston fans look back on this win as perhaps one that steadied the ship during a somewhat rough stretch, they'll remember that steal. Conversely, when Indiana looks back at this loss as one that will perhaps loom large come April for a team that figures to be in a tight fight for playoff seeding, Bogdanovic's act of basketball lunacy in vomiting up that rainbow of a gift will live front and center.
But when you get right down to it, the difference between the Celtics winning and losing this game was Kyrie Irving, who has been everything Danny Ainge thought he could be when be brought him over from Cleveland this summer. Irving scored 30 points on Tuesday on 12-of-23 shooting, including 5 of 8 from deep, and none was bigger than the the pair of triples he hit in the closing minute to even give Rozier a chance at that steal.
The first one came with a little more than 30 seconds left and Boston trailing by five:
The next one came with Boston trailing by four and 10 seconds to play:
I can already hear the analytics army dismissing Irving's 10th 30-point game of the season while hollering about his minus-5 rating (the only starter with a negative number). These are the same people who might tell you that Irving, for all the adulation he has received, actually hasn't been as good this season as he was last with the Cavs -- again, according to the numbers. With all due respect, this is nuts.
For starters, Irving's numbers are terrific:
Beyond that, if you really want to dig into the math, give me the league-leading 87 points Kyrie has scored in the clutch this season all day long. NBA games are often decided by a few possessions. Even when teams run out to big leads -- as the Celtics did Monday, when they got up by as many as 19 -- counter runs are almost inevitable. It comes down to money time. The Celtics scored the final 10 points at Indiana. Irving had six of them, including three consecutive buckets in the final minute.
Al Horford was great, again, finishing one assist shy of a triple-double. Marcus Smart was 4 for 4 from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum was again ultra efficient. Boston's four starters other than Irving were a combined plus-33, while Irving, as mentioned, was a minus-5. And yet, in the end, the Celtics, who are on pace for a 65-win season, won this game, first and foremost, because they had Irving and the other team didn't. Plain and simple. The guy is an absolute star.
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