With the game on the line, Celtics' Kyrie Irving shifts into clutch mode


INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Boston Celtics are in a jam and need a basket down the stretch, chances are high that Kyrie Irving will either take the shot or be the set-up man (or even a decoy) for who does get a shot at being the team’s closer.

It is a responsibility Irving has always embraced but you wouldn’t know that because as much as he loves clutch moments, one of his old teammates back in Cleveland was kind of greedy when it came to gobbling up those make-or-break moments.

But in Boston Irving has the green light to take any and all shots when the game is up for grabs.

It is a role we have seen him play out during the regular season for the Celtics as well as in the playoffs, a role he hopes to continue living in tonight when the Celtics take on the Indiana Pacers in Game 3.  

“The object of the game is to outscore the other team,” Irving said. “You have to put points on the board as best you can, get everyone involved as best you can, get defensive stops, be in the right position. Down the stretch it’s just reading and reacting, instinctual things, using your basketball IQ and making the little plays out there in order to guarantee a win.”

Down the stretch in clutch moments (games within five points with five minutes or less), Irving has proven himself over time to be among the game’s best scorers.

Last season, Irving averaged 4.3 points in clutch moments which ranked fourth in the NBA, and his 0.8 assists per game was second.

“He’s a special player, especially in those end-of-game situations,” Boston’s Aron Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “You absolutely love having a guy with that talent in those moments, on your team.”

During the 2017-2018 season, Irving’s first with the Celtics, he averaged 4.2 points in the clutch which ranked fourth in the league and 0.6 assists which ranked 10th.

When asked about what changes for him down the stretch in close games, Irving responded, “I’ve just always been really good it. Being down Being down the stretch, running middle pick and roll, being able to get my own shot, get other guy’s shots. My style of play down the stretch has evolved since I was a rookie until now, just understanding when a three-pointer is needed or an easy 2 just to stop a run and just answering the call.

He added, “That’s what it’s really all about, when it gets down to those waning minutes down the stretch. It’s not so much worrying about what can possibly happen it’s about going out and doing it and being fearless about it.”

And as consumed as Irving may at times come off as being, he knows all too well how important it is for this franchise going forward to have other players with the talent and capability to come up with big shots in crunch moments.

We saw one of those players emerge in Boston’s 99-91 Game 2 win on Wednesday.

Jayson Tatum finished the game with 26 points, scoring or assisting on eight of Boston’s last 10 points as Boston rallied from as many as 12 points down in the fourth, to get the win.

“He draws a lot of attention. He’s special; he does some amazing things out there,” Tatum said following Boston’s Game 2 win. “It’s good for us to have a leader, someone who has been there, done that before.”

Irving talks fondly about the back-breaking 3-pointer he hit a couple years ago with the Cleveland Cavaliers against Golden State on the road in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

“It’s definitely one of those memories and experiences that sticks with me; it’ll stick with me for the rest of my career,” Irving said. “Just the circumstances we were under. We really didn’t have anything to lose at that point. We were down 3-1 and just went on to accomplish something bigger than ourselves.  Here, I try to take that experience and give it to my teammates; of what Indiana is going to be like, what the road is going to be like especially in a playoff atmosphere. I’m gonna make some mistakes. We’re all gonna make some mistakes. But it’s always about the most important thing and that’s staying together. I’ve talked about it throughout the season, but a 14-point lead can be erased in a matter of three minutes just waiting for the other team to become undisciplined or they get comfortable; they think the game is over. You’re always in the game if you stay together.”

Which is the kind of clutch temperament needed to successfully navigate through the postseason, particularly in those moments when the game is on the line and someone - OK, Kyrie Irving - needs to step up.

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