Irving settles in, leads Celtics over Spurs
BOSTON — Kyrie Irving is clearly making himself more at home with his new team.
The All-Star guard, who went through some shooting problems earlier in this young season, has caught fire, and Monday night led the Celtics to their first victory over the San Antonio Spurs since 2011.
“You can tell he’s getting more comfortable every time he takes the floor,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after Irving scored 24 points, dished out six assists and added three steals in a 108-94 victory over the Spurs — Boston’s fifth straight win after an 0-2 start. “He’s playing both ends really well.”
The victory ended Boston’s 11-game losing streak, six of those at TD Garden, against the Spurs and it was the Celtics’ most-lopsided win over San Antonio since March of 1997 — Gregg Popovich’s first year coaching the Spurs (they won 15 games that season).
Irving, traded to Boston to complete what was supposed to be a new Big Three, only to lose Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of the first game, went through a three-game stretch where he was 12-for-55 from the floor and 4-for-15 from 3-point range.
“No different than any other night I’ve seen him play,” Popovich said of Irving. “He’s a hell of a player. You think he’s going to change? Kyrie does what he does and he does it very well.”
But in the last three games he has gone 30-for-57 (10-for-16 Monday) and 7-for-19 from behind the arc.
For his first seven games as a Celtic, he is averaging 21.7 points and 5.7 assists per game.
Irving also had two rebounds and a blocked shot in 30-plus minutes.
“I felt like I had to adjust to them,” Irving said of his new teammates. “That was probably the biggest thing. Coming in and even playing pickup with those guys, they have a team-oriented-at-all-times vibe and culture here and I had to be able to adjust my individual talents to the greater good of the group.
“I feel that has been going a lot better than even I expected because of the guys that we have in this locker room. They make it a lot easier.”
It was the Spurs’ third straight loss on a 1-3 road trip. They won at Miami to start the journey, going to 4-0.
While the Celtics are missing Hayward and Marcus Morris, the Spurs are without the injured Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker and the resting Manu Ginobili.
“We actually played better even though we got our ass kicked,” Popovich said. “I saw some things that I liked, but we got a lot of stuff to go over with a lot of new guys.”
Jaylen Brown scored 18 points and Al Horford delivered 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Terry Rozier scored eight of his 12 points in 52 seconds to put the game away in the fourth quarter and rookie Jayson Tatum pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked three shots for Boston.
“We’re just really buying into what the coach wants us to do and our young guys, they’re all ears,” said Horford, who has equaled his career high with five straight games with at least nine rebounds. “They’re all listening, trying to be better.”
And they’re led by Irving.
“He’s leading our team in steals right now. I’m kind of upset about that because he’s got bragging rights over us,” said Rozier, who left soon after his scoring spree after stubbing his toe (he’s OK). “He’s been doing a good job. He’s been playing great offensively and defensively.”
Marcus Smart added nine points and seven rebounds in the win.
The five-game winning streak is Boston’s longest October run since they opened the 1972-73 season with nine straight wins.
The Spurs got a career-high 18 points and five rebounds from Brandon Paul, 14 points from Rudy Gay, and 11 points apiece from LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Gasol also pulled down eight rebounds.
San Antonio hit 12 3-pointers in 26 tries but went just 10-for-20 from the foul line.
Asked if he could take something positive from a 1-3 trip, Popovich said, “Well sure, that’s why you do this. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you can improve in both situations.”
NOTES: F Marcus Morris, who has yet to play for his new team because of a knee injury, had targeted Monday for his Celtics debut but instead scrimmaged with the Maine Red Claws at Boston’s practice facility. Coach Brad Stevens said Morris would go through practice Tuesday “and we’ll go from there.” ... San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said before the game G Manu Ginobili was “probably out” to rest on the back end of a back-to-back and Ginobili didn’t play. ... Stevens said Gs Jabari Bird and Kadeem Allen will stay with Maine “until we need them.” ... The Spurs return home for the Golden State Warriors Thursday night while the Celtics host the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night.