Irving returns to spark Celtics' 13th straight win

Man in plastic mask ignores discomfort to lead all scorers in victory over the Brooklyn Nets

BROOKLYN (New York) • It was not exactly the Masked Kyrie moment fans on social media were calling for, but Kyrie Irving of the Celtics returned from a facial fracture and helped lead Boston to a 109-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

He had said before the National Basketball Association (NBA) game that he hated wearing a mask regardless of his past success wearing one. But the point guard was forced to endure the discomfort because of a fracture below his left eye he suffered when he was elbowed by team-mate Aron Baynes last Friday in the first quarter of a win over the Charlotte Hornets.

It was a battle between Irving and the moulded plastic mask throughout the game, as he pulled it off and tossed it aside at any opportunity.

But Boston (13-2) was happy to have him back, as he produced 25 points, five assists and three rebounds in 29 minutes at the Barclays Centre. Seven of his points came in the fourth quarter as Boston held off a late charge by the Nets (5-9) to claim their 13th straight victory.

"It's a piece of plastic on your face," Irving said.

"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 dialled into what's in front of me, my peripherals are a little cut off, but it's just something you get used to.

"It's getting tougher and tougher the more aggressive I play."

Boston's Kyrie Irving driving to the basket against Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie during the Celtics' 109-102 win at the Barclays Centre. Irving, making his return from a facial injury with a protective mask, chipped in with 25 points. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Irving's history with masks dates to 2012, when he broke a bone in his jaw. On short notice, the Cleveland Cavaliers cobbled together a black mask for Irving to wear against the New York Knicks - and he went on to score 41 points in a loss.

He then switched to a clear mask, which he wore for the next 18 games, and produced noticeably higher scoring averages and shooting percentages.

Largely because of the fond memories of his high-scoring game against the Knicks in the dramatic black mask, the thought of Irving coming back in a mask for Boston inspired plenty of creativity online.

The game initially looked like it would be a blowout in the Celtics' favour, but the Nets put up a fight and went into half-time with the score tied following a 14-0 run in the second quarter.

Caris LeVert, with 15 points, was a spark plug for a Nets bench that outscored Boston's reserves, 35-13, but the Celtics simply had too much talent in the starting line-up for the Nets to keep up.

Along with Irving, the Celtics got a big showing from Marcus Morris, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Irving said he would be wearing the mask for a "couple weeks", with time yet for him to produce another blockbuster game and burgeon his reputation for thriving in a mask. Boston host defending champions Golden State today.

In Houston, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points to lead six Raptors (8-5) in double figures as they downed Rockets 129-113 in Houston, snapping the home team's six-game winning streak.

James Harden led Houston (11-4) with 38 points and 11 assists, going 19 of 19 from the free-throw line.

But he shot poorly - just eight out of 25 from the field and three for 11 from deep.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2017, with the headline 'Irving returns to spark Celtics' 13th straight win'. Subscribe