Before comeback began, Kyrie's leadership showed


BOSTON – The way the Celtics battled back from 26 points down to beat Houston 99-98 was indeed a statement game.

But the real message came at halftime, a message delivered by Kyrie Irving to his teammates inside the locker room.


Terry Rozier said the message struck a chord with him and the rest of the Celtics players.

“We are playing against a great team,” Rozier recalled Irving saying, and added, “This is a great challenge for us; just block everything out. Things are going to go bad so people are going to doubt us, but we got each other and we are the ones playing.”

Indeed, it was a well-timed and well-received message for a team that desperately needed someone to step up and lead them out of the halftime malaise they found themselves in.

And so there was Irving, the most decorated and accomplished player on the Celtics roster, delivering the kind of leadership that frankly, no one knew for sure he had in him.

Talented player?


But his leadership skills have for the most part been overshadowed by playing with LeBron James in Cleveland the three previous seasons.

However, in Boston, there’s nowhere to run or hide.

For better or worse, this team is only going to go as far as Irving leads them.

And on Thursday, the four-time All-Star led them to one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history.

Irving is quick to deflect the credit tossed his way to the collective group for how they performed under some major duress on Thursday.

Houston opened the game by scoring the first 12 points, and pushed its lead to the 26-point plateau before halftime and kept it there early in the third quarter.

Boston’s comeback began in the third, a quarter in which Irving scored 12 of his team-high 26 points.

“It took everyone collectively being on the same page and individually demand excellence out of themselves to battle through whatever adversity we were going to go through,” Irving said.

Charlotte Hornets wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played at St. Patrick’s High School in Elizabeth, N.J. with Irving.

To see how his former high school teammate has led the Celtics (29-10) to become one of the best teams in the NBA this season is not surprising.

“He’s always been talented,” Kidd-Gilchrist told NBC Sports Boston. “He knows what he wants out of himself and that’s greatness. That’s all he talks about, all he preaches, is greatness.”

And what we’ve seen from Irving in Boston is an ability to balance that heightened level of expectations for himself and his team with being both a teammate and mentor.

Part of it has to do with the Irving, 25, being close enough in age to his younger teammates to have some of the same interests, but accomplished enough to where they’ll listen to what he has to say and try to incorporate it into their games.

“He’s been a great help to me,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston earlier this season. “All that he’s done in this league, you’d be crazy not to listen to what he has to say. He’s on a level that a lot of us young guys in the league, want to get to.”

And while Irving has already won an NBA title with Cleveland, this season has been the first in which he has been able to be the face of a franchise AND have a talented enough group around him to win at the highest level.

So, as they left the locker room to start the second half on Thursday, they had no idea how they would respond to having been shellacked badly through the first two quarters of play.

But they were in a much better place mentally after Irving’s halftime message.

“It got us feeling good about ourselves,” Rozier said.

Which is one of the many things that leaders – the good ones – do.


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