Irving powers Celtics to victory over 76ers
BOSTON — Kyrie Irving heard the “M-V-P” chants at TD Garden again Thursday night.
He should expect to hear them throughout the rest of his first season in his new home.
“I say all the time how spoiled we are to coach guys at this level,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after Irving scored 36 points to lead the Boston Celtics to a 108-97 victory over the undermanned but feisty Philadelphia 76ers.
“He’s certainly one of the most gifted scorers in the game and he can do things with just a tiny amount of space and make it look easy.”
Irving posted his fourth 30-point game in the last seven and his fifth of the season as the Celtics (19-4) made it through for their ninth win in their last 10 home games.
Irving had nine points in the fourth quarter, saying later, “It’s go time. It’s just go-time, man — especially when the game’s in the balance.”
It was also the seventh straight TD Garden victory for Boston over Philadelphia (12-9).
Irving had help in this one as Marcus Morris, moved to the bench in a slight starting lineup shuffle, had two quick scoring bursts that produced 13 of his 17 points — one shy of his season high.
“I’ve said this before — we really need his scoring,” Stevens said after Morris scored six straight points in a 9-0 run near the end of the third quarter and seven in a 9-2 spurt that captured control of the game early in the fourth.
Al Horford posted 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists and rookie Jayson Tatum scored 15, seven in the fourth quarter, in the win, which was a three-point game 1:38 into the fourth quarter.
Horford, talking about Morris, said, “I think he was the difference in the fourth quarter when we really couldn’t score the ball. He got us going.”
He called having a scorer like Irving “a luxury.”
The big Celtics push came as the Sixers, playing the second game of a back-to-back and with big man Joel Embiid (22.9 points, 11.3 rebounds per game) resting and others hurt (and one left at home), ran out of gas.
“We were playing the Boston Celtics, the best team in basketball, and I give them credit on doing some good things defensively,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
Dario Saric led Philadelphia with 18 points and 10 rebounds. J.J. Redick scored 17 points, and rookie Ben Simmons had 15 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Robert Covington scored 11 points apiece, and Jerryd Bayless had 10 points.
Simmons, defended heavily throughout, also committed five turnovers.
“We tried to be as big as possible on him,” Stevens said.
Brown, who credited his own team’s effort, said, “I think that the Celtics’ defense is elite. I thought Ben did a good job.”
Philadelphia stayed in the game by going 16 of 32 from 3-point range. The 76ers made only 19 two-pointers on 52 tries.
According to Celtics radio voice Sean Grande, the Celtics have won 52 straight games when holding the opposition below 99 points.
The Sixers left the disgruntled Jahlil Okafor home, with Brown saying, “Just trying to get him in a place where we can do whatever we can to move forward, to move his career forward. If it’s not going to be in Philly to make sure that we create an environment that he knows he’s cared for, that we are doing everything we can to keep his body right, his mind right, his fitness up.
“At any point somebody could tell him he’s traded, he’ll be on a plane and he’s going to roll into a city and expect to be able to perform.”
Boston’s Marcus Smart, who had eight assists and five points in 32:48, left the game limping in the third quarter but returned, saying later someone stepped on his Achilles, causing a sharp pain.
NOTES: Former Celtic F Amir Johnson started with 76ers C Joel Embiid resting. Johnson had six points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. ... The Sixers were missing G Markelle Fultz and G T.J. McConnell, both out with shoulder injuries. Nik Stauskas (ankle) played for the first time since Nov. 7. ... Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has only played in four games. ... Looking for more defense, Boston coach Brad Stevens inserted C Aron Baynes into the starting lineup for F Marcus Morris. ... Stevens on whether rookie F Jayson Tatum is better off playing for a contender in his first year. “I don’t know if we’re a contender. We’re 22 games in.” ... The Sixers, who just went 4-2 on a six-game homestand, also play the next three at home, starting with the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. The Celtics continue their four-game homestand with a Saturday matinee against the Phoenix Suns.