BOSTON—Kyrie Irving said he regretted criticizing his younger teammates, then he made a call to a former teammate he also owed an apology.
The Celtics' point guard said he called LeBron James over the weekend to apologize for failing to understand the burden the four-time NBA MVP carried when they played together on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I had to call 'Bron' and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips,” Irving said after the Celtics beat the Toronto Raptors 118-107 last night night.
“I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship," he noted. ”I wanted to be the leader.
“I wanted to be all that.”
Returning after missing the previous game with a bruised right leg, Irving hit a foul-line fadeaway to give Boston the lead for good, then hit a 31-foot three-pointer to finish with 27 points
He had 10 points and six of his career-high 18 assists in the fourth quarter, including passes to set up Boston's last three baskets in a game-ending 17-4 run.
“Somehow people still think I can't pass," Irving said. "When guys are making shots, it made my job a lot easier.”
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Celtics—all on the road. In lengthy comments after a loss in Orlando on Saturday, Irving called out his less-experienced teammates and said, “We have a lot of learning to do.”
But he admitted he came to regret what he said—or at least how he said it.
“I did a poor job of setting an example for these young guys what it's like to get something out of your teammates,” Irving remarked.
“Going forward, I want to test these young guys but I can't do it publicly,” he stressed.
“That was a learning experience for me, realizing the magnitude of my voice and what I mean to these guys.”
And that also made him realize that he owed James an apology for bristling when the star returned from Miami to a Cleveland team that Irving had come to think of as his own.
“He's been in this situation, been there with me, where I've been the young guy, been the 22-year-old kid, wanting everything, wanting everything right now,” Irving noted.
Al Horford scored 24 while Jayson Tatum added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Boston, which returned home after losing three-straight on the road.
Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points while Serge Ibaka had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who had won five in a row heading into the match-up of two teams that consider themselves the heir to James' Cavaliers as the best team in the East.
Toronto (33-13) fell percentage points behind Milwaukee (32-12) for the best records in the NBA.
“For the most part this year, when we've had a really tough team, we've responded,” said Gordon Hayward, who scored 18 points off the bench for the Celtics.
“But we haven't played like that every single night.”
Toronto led 104-100 after Leonard's three-point play with 4:22 left before Boston scored 17 of the next 19 points.
Tatum had a three-point play and then a three-pointer to give Boston a 106-104 lead before Toronto tied it.
Irving then hit consecutive baskets, popping his jersey for the adoring crowd after connecting on the second from just a step or two inside the centre tip-off circle.
He then went to the pass, assisting on Boston's last three baskets of the game before Toronto's last bucket ended it.
“The last three minutes of the game got away from us,” Raptors' coach Nick Nurse said.