NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup and scored 25 points while wearing a protective mask, and the Celtics beat the Nets 109-102 Tuesday night for their 13th straight victory.
The Celtics remained unbeaten since an 0-2 start heading into their showdown Thursday in Boston against the Warriors. Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday that Boston appears to be the next team to beat in the Eastern Conference, "with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie is amazing.’’
Marcus Morris added 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Jayson Tatum scored 19 for the Celtics.
Irving missed one game with a minor facial fracture after he was hit by teammate Aron Baynes on Friday. He fiddled with the mask frequently, but it didn’t seem to affect his play much. He made a jumper with 3:40 left after the Nets had closed within four points and drove for another basket about 35 seconds later.
Boston then finally put it away with Jaylen Brown’s alley-oop feed to Tatum before Irving’s two free throws made it 106-96.
Joe Harris scored 19 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Nets, who are without leading scorer D’Angelo Russell because of a bruised left knee. Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert added 15 points apiece.
Irving has played in a mask before, and he’s done it well. He scored a then career-high 41 in a loss at New York on Dec. 15, 2012 while with Cleveland. Tuesday, he fiddled with the mask frequently, but it didn’t seem to affect his play much.
The Celtics started 7-of-9 from the field to lead 17-4, but the Nets jumped ahead in the second quarter and countered every time Boston threatened to pull away until the final minutes.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS: DeMar DeRozan scored 27 and the visiting Raptors built a big lead in the first half and held on for a 129-113 win over the Rockets. James Harden had 38 points and made 19 of 19 free throws for Houston.
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