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Celtics starters come through to finish off Heat – Boston Herald

What worked for the Red Sox at times in the postseason was a needed formula Monday night for the Celtics. Their starters were closers in a 107-99 victory over the Heat, mainly because they had to be.

On a night when the Boston bench was battered to the tune of 66-23, the first five, led by Kyrie Irving and his 26 points, 10 assists and career-high eight steals, was more than able to pick up the slack. Al Horford was large, as well, with 16 points (8-of-11 shooting) and 12 rebounds.

The win was the Celts’ fourth straight overall and ninth straight on the parquet floor above North Station. It also was Brad Stevens’ 250th career regular-season triumph.

And as with many of the other 249, it didn’t come maybe as easily as it appeared it would.

After leading 33-23 at the end of one quarter, the Celts produced just 17 points on 27.3 percent shooting in the second. Then, with the starters all playing at least 10:07 in the third, the C’s seized control with 37 points on 72.7 percent marksmanship. Terry Rozier came off the pine to hit a 3-pointer, but the rest of the damage in the quarter was done by the starters, who made 15 of their 21 shots.

“We just didn’t play as well off the bench as we have,” Stevens said. “As I just told the team, ‘If you played, look at the film, digest it and move on. If you didn’t, look at the film, digest it and move on.’

“We have to play much better for the full 48 than we did, but our starts were great, and when the starters came back in … I thought they were really good.”

The Celts went from a 50-50 tie at halftime to an 87-68 lead after three. And the margin was up to a high of 22 when Gordon Hayward hit a trey and Jaylen Brown scored on a fast break around two Justise Winslow free throws.

But the C’s would lose their way — if not the game — surrendering a 24-7 run that was halted when the starters completed their re-entry and brought their defense, not to mention a couple of Irving drives that calmed Stevens’ nerves.

The Heat got as close as five before the Celts steered out of the skid. Irving scored twice on moves to the hoop and, after a Bam Adebayo free throw, went to the bucket again for a score to advance the lead to 10 with 2:37 left.

“Pretty much you have to play perfectly offensively when you’re dealing with Kyrie Irving on the other end,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It seemed like he made every single play when we were trying to get the ball out of his hands. He was just brilliant there at the end.”

Said Irving, “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, being aggressive. That’s really pretty much it. Trying to make plays for myself and my teammates. The ball is in my hands, and I’ve just got to make the right plays.”

The Celts have come to expect it.

“It was just one of those situations that we needed to score,” Horford said, “and we trust that Kyrie’s going to make the right play, whether that’s scoring or passing it. And he was very aggressive. He took over and it was huge. Having that kind of player and that kind of luxury where we can just let him kind of take over, feels good.”

It should. During this four-game winning streak, Irving is shooting 60.3 percent from the floor. And he’s the first Celtic to have 10 games of 20-plus points and 10-plus assists in one season since Larry Bird did it 11 times in the 1986-87 campaign.

Being mentioned in that kind of company will draw more national attention — and from opponents, too, who have been throwing more double-teams his way.

“The other four guys should be secretly loving that,” Stevens said, “because they get a chance to really attack the basket playing four on three.”

And then there were the steals, one more than his previous best (as a Cavalier against Golden State on Christmas of 2016).

“I felt pretty good,” Irving said. “I got lucky on a few of them, so that helps the stat sheet. But I turned the ball over a little too much after a few of those steals just being really excited that I got one. That’s awesome though.”

Added Horford, “All year he’s been more committed to being better on the defensive end, and tonight he seemed to be at the right spots every time. And that’s a credit of him preparing for the game. I’m just happy to see him having an impact not only on offense but on defense, as well.”

Now the Celtics get to prepare for four more games at the Garden, including Saturday against the Warriors, to close out this homestand. Then they can try again to find a way improve on their 11-13 road record.

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