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Kyrie squares off with Dennis Smith Jr. but comes out on top

From ESPN - December 6, 2017

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics big man Al Horford was assessing his team's latest rally from a double-digit deficit -- No. 7 of the 2017-18 season saw the short-handed Celtics charge from as many as 12 down to top the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night -- when he noted, "It all starts with Kyrie for us. Everybody knows that."

Horford might have been better off suggesting it all ends with Irving, who continues to dazzle in clutch time (when the score is within five points in final five minutes). Irving scored seven of his game-high 23 points over the final 3:45, twisting Mavericks defenders into pretzels while attacking the basket off a variety of dribble moves and helping Boston run away with a 97-90 triumph at TD Garden.

Irving has scored 74 clutch-time points while shooting an absurd 62.2 percent in those situations. He has slipped to second in total clutch point output behind former Cavaliers teammate LeBron James (76), but to showcase just how far ahead of the rest of the league the duo is, Portland's Damian Lillard (56) is the only other player with more than 45 clutch points this season.

Sure, it has helped Irving (and James and Lillard) that their teams have played so many close games. But that Irving has so routinely taken over in the fourth quarter this season still is mesmerizing. The poor Mavericks have seen Irving rally the Celtics to victory twice in the span of little more than two weeks.

Asked what changed late in Wednesday's game, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle offered, "I do not have an exact recollection of it. Irving made some amazing plays, which he always does."

For his part, Irving shrugged off his latest exploits.

"Just winning time," he said. "Simple as that."

Irving then apologized to reporters, wondering if they were sick of hearing him say how much he enjoys the final minutes of a close game.

A reporter then asked if Irving considers the game an art form.

"Oh yeah, it is. For sure," Irving said. "It's just a lot of movement, a lot of thoughts that we have to put into action. The responsibility you have to put in other people, the responsibility you have to put in yourself and demand it every single possession, and the energy that it takes out of you in order to do that for your teammates on both ends of the floor.

"It's just a constant masterpiece that you have to paint. Sometimes it's going to be all scribble and stuff like that, it's OK to get out of the lines. That's the way I think of it sometimes or, excuse me, most of the time when I am describing it and watching it, just watching so many different details that I need to do in order to think about the best way to get a win."

Back in the first quarter, Irving got into a little dust-up with Dennis Smith Jr. after fouling the Dallas rookie on a drive to the basket. Smith tried to create some space with his left arm, and Irving fouled him as he went up with a layup. Smith bumped Irving after the whistle and jawed from behind him before Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum moved between the two to prevent any escalation.

Irving detailed after the game how he has watched Smith on his way up to the NBA, noting he's aware of all the players who come with the label of being the next great point guard.

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