BOSTON – When Kyrie Irving enters a zone on the basketball court, there is nothing that can disrupt his rhythm. His mind slips into an unconscious state, while his body continues to go through the motions. There is no crowd noise, there are no hands reaching for the ball or waving in his face – it’s just him, the basketball and the swish of the net.
“It’s pretty peaceful,” the Celtics guard describes whimsically. “Other than fatigue, I don’t think anything else is really on my mind other than just the next play that needs to happen on both ends of the floor.”
Irving entered one of those zones Friday night while facing off against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden. And once he did, it was game over for Boston’s Atlantic Division foe.
The first three quarters were not completely out of the ordinary for Irving, as he put up 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. But in crunch time, he kicked into a different gear, scoring 23 points during the fourth quarter and overtime to help the C’s overcome a 10-point deficit and pull out a 123-116 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Raps.
The turning point was at the 10:24 mark in the fourth quarter, when the Celtics subbed Irving into the game while facing an eight-point disadvantage. On his first possession, Uncle Drew connected on a 15-foot fadeaway shot, and from there he took over.
Irving hit shot after shot – at the rim, from beyond the arc, falling away in the mid-range, you name it. Every shot he took looked and felt like it was going in. And most of them did. He finished with a season-high 43 points on 18-of-26 shooting, including a 9-of-12 clip during the fourth quarter and overtime.
“He made some shots tonight where you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ You just catch yourself being a fan,” a still-amazed Gordon Hayward stated after the game. “And when he gets into that mode, I think the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors – they just couldn’t stop him.”
Some of his most impressive feats came at the rim. The 6-foot-3 point guard continuously drove into the trees, contorting his body and spinning the ball off the glass like a magician.
“I told him he had to have had an ‘A’ in English class, because his English with that ball is [second] to none,” said Marcus Morris, who like Hayward was left stunned by Irving’s performance. “I have never seen anybody put the ball at the top of the backboard like that and get the roll.”
Irving wasn’t only making shots, but he was creating them as well. He logged the best passing game of his Celtics career, dishing out 11 assists, four of which came during the five-minute overtime session. It marked the second double-double of his Celtics tenure and the first 40-point double-double of his career.
When Irving has it going like that, coach Brad Stevens will toss out any game plan he has and let his point guard run the show.
“I do everything I can to stay out of his way,” Stevens said with a shake of his head.
Because when Irving enters his zone, there is no stopping him. It’s just him, the ball and the swish of the net.
It’s where he finds his peace.
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