Mazz: How Kyrie Irving, Celtics collapsed down the stretch vs. Lakers

January 23, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) reacts during the 108-107 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Kyrie Irving reacts during the Boston Celtics' 108-107 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. (Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Well, it was an eventful day in the NBA, culminating in a meeting between the Celtics and Lakers – i.e. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James – on national television Thursday night. And as luck would have it, Kyrie and LeBron were in the middle of things in the final seconds, which produced a rather stunning 129-128 Lakers win at TD Garden.

And the final 90 seconds weren’t exactly Kyrie Irving’s shining moment.

How did the Celtics lose this game? Good question. Just when you thought it was safe to enter the water – the C’s had won 9-of-10 – the Celtics blew an 18-point lead to a Lakers team that got walloped at Indiana just two nights ago, the worst loss of James’ career. Worse, the Celtics had a 124-118 lead with 1:24 to go after Irving fed a wide-open Marcus Morris for what seemed like a back-breaking 3-pointer.

But then the Celtics – and specifically Irving – had some curious breakdowns.

Feb 7, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) drives the ball against Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) and forward Daniel Theis (27) in the third quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In the span of just 34 seconds, Irving and the Celtics allowed a 3-pointer to an unguarded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, turned the ball over, then allowed another 3-pointer to James after failing to secure a loose ball. Boston’s inability to secure a loose ball factored in again shortly thereafter when Rajon Rondo (of all people) corralled a loose rebound and nailed a jumper at the buzzer, sending the Celtics home with yet another loss that should shake your faith in them.

How much was Kyrie to blame? Judge for yourself. In the sequence below, Irving (highlighted, left) certainly seems to lose track of Caldwell-Pope (highlighted with the headband, right), who burned the Celtics from 3-point distance all night. (He went 5-for-9.) Still, the Celtics had a 3-point lead when Irving’s subsequent, careless pass resulted in a turnover with 1:09 to play.

Think of that. There’s was 1:24 to play. In 15 seconds, Irving lost his man (Pope) and then lost the ball.

You can see the sequence here:


As you can see, when the Lakers got the ball back, they went right to LeBron James, who had Irving on his hip and immediately called for the ball. Kyrie actually played good defense on the sequence and forced James into what looked like a turnover, but the Lakers scrambled for the ball and James dropped another 3-pointer in the face of Al Horford to tie the game.

Was this sequence the only breakdown the Celtics had last night? Of course not. Boston’s defense was horrid all night and the Celtics allowed the Lakers to shoot 22-of-41 from 3-point distance, a whopping 53.7 percent and the most 3-pointers the Lakers have ever made in a game. Still, it’s impossible to ignore the 34-second stretch at the end of the game in which the Celtics blew a six-point lead by allowing two 3-pointers and committing a quick, sloppy turnover that opened the door for defeat - with their best player in the middle of it all.

Championship teams simply do not do that.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.