Irving masks injury, scores 25 in Celtics’ victory
NEW YORK — When it was over, Kyrie Irving shed the plastic mask and saluted some of the Boston Celtics fans chanting “MVP, MVP,” as he walked off the court.
A masked version of Irving was pretty good, especially down the stretch.
Sporting the protective piece of plastic on his face, Irving scored 25 points and the Celtics ran their winning streak to 13 games with a 109-102 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
“It’s a piece of plastic on your face,” said Irving, who also wore a mask for 19 games during the 2012-13 season with Cleveland. “It’s the difference in having something over your face. It’s almost like having somewhat foggy blinders on.
“When I take off the mask, I can see everything. When I have the mask on, I’m really dialed into what’s in front of me, my peripherals are a little cut off, but it’s just something you get used to.”
Irving experienced some frustrating moments with the item forced upon him after fracturing his face in a collision with teammate Aron Bayes 1:50 into Friday’s win over Charlotte.
After sitting out Boston’s 12th straight win, a one-point triumph over Toronto on Sunday, Irving started 4 of 15 and at one point he angrily tore off the mask to express his disgust for missing a layup in the second quarter.
Irving made four of his final five shots and helped the Celtics seal their latest win down the stretch before answering the inevitable question of “how’s your face?” while standing near a whiteboard inside a cramped Boston locker room.
“It’s broken,” he said with a laugh. “So that’s that. Just wearing a mask for precautionary reasons. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the next few weeks.”
With the protective mask on, Irving played 29 minutes and had five assists. He watched as his teammates allowed the Nets to get within 82-81 in the opening minutes of the fourth before scoring 10 straight points.
Irving returned with 4:45 remaining, moments after watching Marcus Morris hit a 3-pointer with a 95-83 lead. He then put the finishing touches on the win with a 22-foot pull-up jumper and a drive to the rim, giving the Celtics a 99-92 lead shortly after consecutive 3-pointer by Brooklyn’s Allen Crabbe made it a four-point game.
After those hoops, Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum converted a nifty layup and took an alley-oop feed from Jaylen Brown for a dunk on a play started when Irving stole the ball from Trevor Booker.
“I don’t worry about him getting a rhythm too much,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “He’ll find that and obviously he made huge plays late in the game again.”
Irving’s masked showing helped the Celtics win at least 13 straight games for the 11th time in team history, Boston also is on its first 13-game run since winning 14 straight Nov. 22 to Dec. 22, 2010.
“Great,” Celtics center Al Horford said of Irving’s return. “Just finding his way and doing what he does, making big plays for us, coming through and sealing the game.”
While Irving scored 25 points for the third time as a Celtic, four others reached double figures.
Morris added 21 and 10 rebounds and Tatum contributed 19. Al Horford posted his fifth double-double with 17 points and 11 boards, and Brown totaled 14 points.
An inability to contain Irving down the stretch sent the Nets to a seventh loss in nine games since beating Cleveland on Oct. 25.
“They turned up their defense and we couldn’t handle it,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We didn’t handle it.”
Reserve Joe Harris led the Nets with 19 points while hitting five 3-pointers. DeMarre Carroll added 16, and Crabbe and Caris LeVert contributed 15 apiece as the Nets played without leading scorer D’Angelo Russell (left knee contusion).
“They’re obviously a great team, and whenever it seemed like we were able to make a run, they would come back with a run of their own,” Harris said. “It just goes to show when you play against good teams, great teams, in fact, you can’t just have little strings here and there. You’ve got to have the complete game, and that’s where we were lacking.”
NOTES: Brooklyn C Jarrett Allen returned after missing the last six games with a left foot strain. ... At the morning shootaround, Boston G Kyrie Irving joked that C Aron Baynes did not need to apologize for the inadvertent elbow that led to the facial injury. “He don’t need to get me a fruit basket, man,” Irving said. ... F Trevor Booker became the ninth different player to start a game for the Nets. ... Boston F Marcus Morris posted his seventh career game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.