Celtics will have hands full with Irving

Celtics will have hands full with Irving
December 27, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Kyrie Irving dunks the ball in an April showdown with the Celtics.

(USA Today Sports Images)

WALTHAM, Mass. — Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watched in real time as Cleveland's Kyrie Irving lit up the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night.

The end result was a double-overtime loss for the Cavaliers guard, but it served as yet another reminder -  as if the Celtics or any team needed another one - as to how dynamic a scorer Irving can be on the floor.

Irving, whose 22.1 points per game average ranks 10th in the NBA this season, had 40 points and nine assists against the Hawks.

"Irving put on a show," said Stevens. "That's putting it mildly."

Trying to keep him in check will be among the chief concerns as Boston (12-17) tries to snap its three-game losing streak against a Cavaliers (10-18) team that like the Celtics, is also seeking to end a three-game losing skid.

Despite the recent struggles, the Cavaliers (10-18) have actually played decent basketball in the month of December, with a 5-6 record that has them now just 1.5 games behind Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

"Like anything else, they've figured out what they do best and they've got a couple of guards that can get anywhere they want to go," said Stevens, referring to Irving and Dion Waiters who had 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting in Cleveland's 127-125 double overtime loss to Atlanta on Thursday night.

Look for Boston's Avery Bradley to spend a good bit of tomorrow afternoon chasing around Irving who has established himself as one of the league's best scorers.

Having to face the 6-foot-3 guard comes at a time when the Celtics have shown signs of slippage defensively.

In the last three games, opponents have averaged 106.3 points per game compared to the Celtic's defense giving up an average of 96.9. Boston has been especially bad of late in transition, with opponents averaging 20.3 fast break points - up for 13.3 this season - along with 21.7 points off turnovers which is a noticeable spike compared to their season average of 17.5.

Preparation for today's game included watching video of their recent play.

After seeing their struggles on the big screen, Bradley summed up the team's problems of late defensively in one word: Energy.

"It's like night and day," Bradley said. "When we come out and some games we're just all down in a stance, and other games we're just like this, standing up ... it's (lack of energy) obvious when you watch film."

When the two teams met on Nov. 29, the Celtics came away with a solid 103-86 win.

Irving had 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting with three assists and four turnovers.

Bradley, who had 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting in that game, was praised for the job he did in limiting Irving to being a scorer and not a scoring facilitator (Irving averages a team-best 6.1 assists per game).

He'll try and limit the Cav's high-scoring guard once again on Saturday afternoon.

"There are so many great scorers in this league," Bradley said. "You can try and slow them down, but as a team I feel like we all have to play great tomorrow to at least slow him down a little bit."