BOSTON — As spectacular as Kyrie Irving was on this night — and Boston’s masked superhero shined while producing his fifth game this month with at least 30 points — it was maybe most notable how his teammates responded Thursday night when Irving went to the bench for his final long rest of the night.
The Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers had rallied ahead late in the third quarter and were up a bucket when Irving checked out with 3:37 to play in the frame. Marcus Morris, shuffled to a reserve role with Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens preferring the size of Aron Baynes to start the game, produced three consecutive makes, including a driving finger roll as Boston quickly rallied back in front and held the Sixers at arm’s length until Irving returned midway through the fourth quarter.
Irving, who scored a game-high 36 points on 12-of-21 shooting, took the Celtics to the finish line of a 108-97 triumph over Philadelphia at TD Garden. Morris had 17 points off the bench, making five of his final six shots while carrying Boston’s second-unit offense in the second half.
The Celtics, with a rare two days off after Monday’s loss to the Pistons, seemed to have a little more in the tank than the Sixers, who were playing the second night of a back-to-back (hence Embiid’s absence).
The Sixers put six players in double figures, with Dario Saric scoring a team-high 18 points. Boston overcame some sloppy early play (12 of 17 turnovers came in first half) and shot 50.6 percent overall from the field.
Jayson Tatum, the player Boston selected with the No. 3 pick it received in a pre-draft swap with Philadelphia, scored 15 points. He again came up with key scoring plays, such as in the fourth quarter when he waved off his teammates to go isolation against former Celtics big man Amir Johnson and drove at the basket for a layup.
Though Celtics coach Brad Stevens challenged the notion that his team is a contender through the first quarter of the season, Boston improved to 19-4 on the season and maintained the best record in basketball.
Sixers coach Brett Brown suggested Boston is among current NBA powers.
“I mean, we’re playing against NBA royalty right now,” Brown said.
“You’re always learning from All-Stars, really. I look at this [Boston] team and you look at what Kyrie and [Al] Horford have done with bringing some of these young guys along and they’re NBA All-Stars for a reason. I think it’s a great learning experience for us. I think this building and this city has a real pulse. It’s got a vibe to the building, as unforgiving as Philadelphia is. You go on the road and play the league’s best team and there needs to be a level of poise and confidence among our group.”
The Celtics continue their four-game homestand Saturday when they host the Phoenix Suns.