Irving's drive to succeed heads down new path without Hayward

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BOSTON –  It seems everyone is waiting for that breakout game by Kyrie Irving, that game when he puts the Boston Celtics on his back, carries them to victory and serves as a reminder to everyone why he’s a four-time All-Star despite being just 25 years old.

But here’s the thing.

He understands better than most that being a dominant, high-scoring guard isn’t what this is all about.

Irving loves to win, and he knows winning isn’t easy.

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And that challenge of trying to win at a high level is clearly something that excites him.

That’s why the biggest gleam in his eye following Tuesday’s 110-89 win over New York wasn’t when he was talking about Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s growth, or the budding chemistry developing between him and Al Horford.

It was when he talked about being on the road, and how much he loves to play on another team’s home floor.

“I love them; I love them,” Irving said of road games, failing miserably to talk about them and not have an ear-to-ear grin on his face at the same time. “I love playing at home more, but I love road games so much. It’s a test of character and you understand that. When teams go on runs or the calls may kind of be uneven, you’re tested in terms of will, guys in foul trouble or guys in foul trouble early; you never know what can happen in a road game. And that unpredictability is something that is great for building an identity of a team.”

And that is what all of this is about.

Even though Brown and Tatum were the focal points for most following Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, Irving quietly had one of his best games as a Celtic.

He would finish with 20 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but also had seven assists and just three turnovers.

Within the points scored, Irving drained a corner 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock in the third quarter.

Al Horford explained why he passed the ball to Irving with about a second to get a shot off.

“I feel he lives for those moments,” Horford said of Irving.

He does.

His former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, knows this all too well.

It was Irving’s shot in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals that catapulted the Cavaliers to an NBA title, a shot that will be remembered as arguably the greatest in that franchise’s history.

Of course, Irving isn’t going to make every buzzer-beater he takes, but the Celtics have a player who does more than make big shots in the fourth quarter.

Irving makes historically great shots in the fourth quarter, a talent you can’t put a price tag on.

He wants to compete at the highest of levels, and understands that in his travels along the road towards greatness, he can’t make the journey on his own.

Which is why the rapid growth of Boston’s youngsters, like Brown and Tatum, is critical to Boston’s success and Irving’s evolution in Boston.

Brown, who turned 21 on Tuesday, led Boston with 23 points against the Knicks while Tatum chipped in with 22. They became the first duo in Celtics history to score 20 or more points in the same game and be 21 years old or younger at the time.  

Their development will open up more and more opportunities for Irving, something Boston desperately needs after losing Gordon Hayward (left ankle) for the season.

His injury has impacted Irving more than any other Celtic, because what Irving needs to be at his best -- spacing -- was the one thing that Hayward’s presence was going to provide him on a nightly basis.

The Celtics are still searching for the best way to fill that void, with Brown and Tatum looking like the best options now.

Both have shown the ability to contribute at a high level and take some of the pressure off Irving.

But there will come a time when the Celtics will need Irving to dominate.

Rest assured, he’ll be ready.

He was built for this mission, this opportunity, this platform to lead the Celtics in a way that will leave an indelible, unmistakable imprint on the most storied franchise in NBA history.

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