NEW YORK (AP) — The Celtics are back from the break and appear to be back on track.
Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading Boston over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for its second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.
“Certainly we can build off of that but we’re not in it for two games, we’re in it for the last 23,” coach Brad Stevens said. “So we’ve just got to keep adding to it and building.”
Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.
Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.
“Consistency has been one of the things that people talk about with this team and I just think long season, lot of ups and downs, you’ve got to go through that if you want to be a good team,” Brown said.
The slump cost the Celtics the top spot in the Eastern Conference they held for most of the season, as they’ve fallen behind Toronto.
“It’s about us right now,” Irving said. “That’s where that stands. We just want to find that consistency and then keep hammering on it.”
Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.
Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers. His last 3 in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead
“The game gets close, all of a sudden he makes two or three pull-up 3s right in a row and all of a sudden now you’re down 11 or 12 and you’re fighting,” New York coach Jeff Hornacek said.
The Knicks chipped away while Irving rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.
Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.
“He got hot, obviously,” Burke said about Irving.
“Fourth quarter he was still hot, which caused problems for us because we were worried about him, which left other people open and they’ve got good role players.”
Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Celtics: Boston played without starting C Aron Baynes, who left after less than three minutes Friday because of a left elbow injury. Stevens said Baynes still felt sore Saturday and would get an MRI once the Celtics returned home. … G Shane Larkin returned after missing nine games with a sore knee and was scoreless in limited minutes.
Knicks: Enes Kanter had 12 rebounds but just nine points, ending his streak of 10 straight double-doubles. That was the longest stretch for a Knicks player since David Lee had 24 in a row in 2008-09.
STILL NO ON HAYWARD
Stevens said not bringing Gordon Hayward on the road was no indication that he wouldn’t return this season, because Stevens has said all along that Hayward wouldn’t be back after breaking his leg in the season opener.
“I mean, we’ll bring him on the road when we can, when he can do stuff on the road,” Stevens said, “but that’s for his own benefit, to get back into the gyms, to get back into his routine, to cheer on his teammates and everything else. As long as he can get more accomplished at our facility or with our trainers when we sent him or left him in Southern California, then that’s going to be the priority, but we have no expectation of Gordon being back this season.”
HE STILL BELIEVES
Horford on Joakim Noah, his former college teammate at Florida who has been away from the Knicks after clashing with Hornacek: “It’s hard, because ever since I’ve met him I’ve always known him wanting to be a Knick and be here in New York, and I feel like he really is an example how New York is. He really embraces that and it was just tough for him to not be able to play to his potential here and do the things that he wanted to do.”
Celtics: Host Memphis on Monday.
Knicks: Host Golden State on Monday.
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