Kyrie Irving Shows off Passing Prowess in Career Night vs. Raptors
BOSTON – Kyrie Irving had a message Wednesday night for any critic who has labeled him as only a scorer. That message came in the form of a career-high 18 assists against the No. 1 team in the NBA on national television.
Taking the form of a true point guard for his Boston Celtics, Irving helped facilitate a 117-108 win over the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden.
“Somehow people still think I can’t pass,” Irving said with a chuckle, after dishing out only two fewer assists than Toronto logged as an entire team.
Those people must not be paying close enough attention.
C's coach Brad Stevens, on the other hand, has been aware of Irving's strong passing skills for many years.
“He’s always been a special playmaker,” Stevens explained in his post-game press conference. “He’s always been able to play with the ball and make plays for himself and others. He’s had that gift since I’ve seen him at under-18 tryouts at USA Basketball. That’s always been something he could do. He did it more than people talked about in Cleveland, and you know he’s a threat to make the right shot. He obviously draws a lot of attention and he usually can make the right read off of that. He’s a great passer with great touch on his passes.”
What made Irving so effective as a passer Wednesday night was how Toronto was defending him. The Raptors, who surrendered a season-high 43 points to Irving in their last matchup, were so concerned with containing Boston’s leading scorer that they would often funnel him into open space while leaving others wide open.
Each time he saw one of those open targets, Irving would choose the easy option: to pass it off.
“He was aggressive and when guys take away his shot, he knows someone else is open,” said Aron Baynes, who made 4-of-5 shot attempts in his first game back after fracturing his left fourth metacarpal in mid-December. “When he sees two or three bodies in front of him, he makes a point of getting it to the open guy. That makes it a lot easier on our guys because you usually have a lot of time and space once he gets you the ball.”
On top of his 18 assists, Irving also managed to score 27 points of his own. In doing so, he became the first NBA player to log at least 27 points and 18 assists in a game since Chris Paul tallied 30 points and 19 dimes on Dec. 18, 2009. He also joined Bob Cousy and Sherman Douglas as the only players in Celtics history to accomplish such a feat.
“He really got to showcase his versatility, the way he plays,” said Al Horford, who logged a season-high 24 points, many of which were a product of Irving’s helpers. “He had the defense on edge. They didn’t know if he was going to score, if he was going to pass. He was just making the right play every time.”
The ability to create offense magnified for Irving during crunch time. He helped to break open a tight contest in the fourth quarter, as he scored or assisted on each of Boston’s final 25 points of the game.
“Kawhi (Leonard) was going to get it going,” Irving said. “So, I knew I had to turn it up a notch for my teammates and really put them in a position to be successful and keep staying on the gas pedal.”
As for those who still don’t view Irving as a gifted passer after Wednesday night’s performance, it may be time to pump the brakes.