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Brilliant! Celtics make most of London trip with comeback win

Boston Herald

January 12. 2018 12:24AM

Boston's Kyrie Irving shoots the ball against Philadelphia's Richaun Holmes during the second quarter at The O2 Arena. (Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports)

LONDON — Part of the NBA Global Games’ mission is to grow the sport overseas, presumably by playing entertaining basketball.

On that basis, a lot of European converts probably lost their religion after witnessing the first 15-odd minutes of Celtics basketball Thursday. But with a slight improvement, the Celtics chants started, and once players like Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving found their range, MVP chants for Irving weren’t far behind.

Once again better late than early, the Celtics nailed down their seventh straight win with 114-103 comeback victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at O2 Arena.

Irving bounced back from a slow start to score 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting, and Jaylen Brown finished with a rather gritty 21-point, 8-for-15 effort. Just as major was a 19-point performance off the bench by Marcus Morris.

The Celtics overcame a 22-point output from J.J. Redick, whose 13-point first half gave the Sixers an early edge.

The sold-out London crowd, sprinkled generously with basketball fans from all over the continent, also got a mild sample of what passes for hurt feelings in the NBA these days.

Morris was knocked to the floor by a hard Ben Simmons pick with 4:48 left in the game and jumped to his feet to shove the Sixers rookie. The crowd received a taste of a little bad blood brewing between these two divisional foes. Simmons was whistled for the foul while Morris drew a technical foul and was even booed when he went to the line.

The Celtics, bolstered by the combined shooting of Tatum, Irving and Morris in the third, carried an 85-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Celtics resumed their attack in the paint, leading to Morris’ diving save of a loose ball and pass to Rozier, who immediately drained the 3-pointer for a 92-83 lead with 9:40 left. Rozier’s three also gave life to the Celtics’ most important run of the night.

The 15-2 burst built steam from downtown, with Morris following up another Rozier hoop — a drive made possible by a Marcus Smart steal — with his third trey of the night. Morris followed with a turnaround before Smart got into the act, nailing a bomb for a 102-85 Celtics lead with seven minutes left.

The Celtics had all sorts of sad sack numbers to show for their abysmal first half, well beyond the trouble they created for themselves.

From Irving (4-for-14) and Horford (1-for-5) to a seldom-shooting Tatum (1-for-3) and an overall 38.9 percent shooting performance, little of it was bearable.

And yet the Celtics had enough left to string together a 15-3 run over the last four minutes of the second quarter and somehow cut the Sixers lead to 57-48 after trailing by as many as 22 points.

Tatum, apparently getting the hint, scored nine points over the first 4:35 of the third quarter, with Irving adding back-to-back 3’s during the same stretch.

Tatum gave meat to a 19-4 run with his last two jumpers, with the Celtics taking their first lead of the night (69-68) on a Daniel Theis dunk, and capping off the run for a 74-68 lead with a Morris 15-footer.

Three-pointers by Rozier and Horford in the last 1:02 gave the Celtics just enough to carry the 85-79 lead into the fourth.