Much to the chagrin of their CyberDust-sending monomaniacal owner, the Dallas Mavericks are rebuilding. But they were just the squad to trap-game the Boston Celtics into the end of their streak. Kyrie, however, was not having that.
THE GAME FLOW
Remember that amid this beautiful goddamned win streak, our heroes have slacked a bit at the beginning of many contests within its confines. In five of the 15 consecutive wins, the Celtics have been down by double digits and earned victory the hardest possible way.
If this were some sort of playing-possum strategy (it’s not), we’d worry, because, by sheer virtue of the gambler’s-ruin theory, that would eventually bite them in the ass no matter what. Things looked like that could be the deal tonight early on. Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. got hot fast with his jumper on transition plays, with a little help from Dirk Nowitzki, he of the ancient legs and still-deadly fadeaway shot. (Looking at it in Brad Stevens-esque “process over results” terms, the Mavs offense is quite well-executed.)
Kyrie Irving, as has historically been his wont, said, perhaps even aloud, “Yeah we’re not dealing with that.” He Who Is Masked And Also Reality Based went on a shooting tear that, when the smoke cleared and the spilled blood settled, came to 18 points at Q1’s end. His run during this frame, when rewatched, should constitute some of the best proof yet that Irving is successfully incorporating his own scoring ability into the socialistic motion schemes favored by Stevens and crisply executed by the Cs under his tenure. Maybe he would’ve done this–at least, a version of this–had he not ended up in Boston, maybe not. But he’s here now, proving his doubters wrong. (Well, except Nick Wright, but Kyrie could save Wright’s children from a burning building and it wouldn’t matter, so entrenched is his LeBron fandom and by-proxy Kyrie hatred.)
Oh, right, there’s a game being played right now. Kyrie’s performance earned him some extended rest in Q2, as did the admirable work of Jaylen Brown, who had 12 of his own within the first frame. The other starters…didn’t fare as well. Marcus Morris, as has historically been his wont, went full-on chucktastic: 1 for 6 in the half. His shooting style of ISOs and pull-ups that can stop the pick and roll in its tracks is extremely freaking problematic if the shots aren’t falling. Jayson Tatum didn’t shoot a lot (albeit doing fine when he did, and succeeding in other areas), and Al Horford didn’t take a shot until just after the two-minute warning for the first half. (It went in.)
The Boston bench got extended tick during this period, and proceeded to A. not score almost at all, B. defend poorly and C. lose control of the ball. Marcus Smart, who seems to be within a serious funk, shot an abysmal 1 for 7 and had 3 turnovers. Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye were all scoreless. Conversely, Dallas’s reserves did fairly well, spreading contributions around between Yogi Ferrell, J.J. Barea and Salah Mejri. The oft-maligned Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews confounded the younger Cs and for a moment in Q2 got the Mavs within a point, after having been down as much as 15. Kyrie dusted off his mask and racked up 7 more. By halftime, he’d amassed 25 on 90 percent shooting and brought the Celtics ahead 53-49.
While the second half didn’t begin with the sloppiness that characterized Q2, it certainly wasn’t the best Celtics ball we’ve seen this year. Barnes and Matthews took control of most offensive possessions for the Mavericks, and the Cs experienced troubles dealing with their delayed isolations, including a old-school 15-foot stepback from Barnes right in Morris’s face to beat the shotclock. Boston’s shooting went ice cold against Dallas’s zone defense, and Barnes stayed hot, bringing his squad in front by a small margin.
Barnes’ ISOs kept drawing Irving onto him as a defender via switches, an abject mismatch. Thus, Kyrie’s genuine efforts to guard the Mavs’ leader were often for naught–Barnes is a considerably larger human than Irving. One of his best moves to repel Barnes got called as a foul, which Kyrie didn’t take well and complained about with great alacrity, earning him a tech. (Objectively, the call was correct as best I could tell, but that sort of tough D gets overlooked by refs all the time.)
The tech worked as a wake-up call, and the Cs got more together in terms of execution. But the offense stayed cold aside from Kyrie and Jaylen FOR GOD’S SAKE SMARF WE LOVE YOU BUT STOP SHOOTING. DO ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Sorry, I couldn’t hold that in any longer. This trend continued into the 4th, with Boston still missing shots as well as several rebound opportunities (odd, as they’d out-boarded Dallas much of the game).
Brown performed well in this final frame as one of the team’s only shot-makers other than Kyrie, and also hustled hard on D. Smarf compensated for his offensive struggles with several crucial deflections and steals (and, to be fair, made two tough treys), Tatum nailed the shot that ended up tying the game at 96 and leading to OT, and Kyrie resumed takeover mode with, among other highlights, an absolutely brutal strip-steal of Nowitzki.
The forced overtime started poorly, but at least for both teams this time, and it didn’t stay bad for Boston. Tatum and Horford rebounded the ball in moments where it truly counted–particularly Tatum, who keeps looking better and better, with an astonishingly multifaceted game for a 19-year-old rookie. Their plays created room for Kyrie to seal the game, ending up with 47 points on hyper-accurate 73 percent shooting, and at long last Dallas’ shooting resumed what you’d expect from a rebounding squad. Some foul game claptrap let the Celtics not only solidify the win but also cover (much to the dismay of many bookies, I have no doubt), and the 16th win went in the books, 110-102.
THE HOT AND NOT
Hot: Kyrie Irving AKA the pride of New Jersey AKA Shiva the god of death; Tatum’s crucial work on the boards; Jaylen’s two-way relentlessness.
Not: MOSTLY EVERYTHING ELSE; the puzzling offensive hesitation of Horford, Morris going chuck-wild.
What they said:
Around the time Jaylen made this trey, the Cs offense looked pretty anemic. It may not appear that way here but helped move the team toward its comeback.