Kyrie Irving says Celtics 'have come a long way' after beating Pacers again

Kyrie Irving says the Celtics’ impressive start to the NBA playoffs proves how far they have come as a team after a difficult regular season.

The Celtics had to settle for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, but a 104-96 road win over the Pacers on Friday put them 3-0 up in their first-round series.

Jaylen Brown had 23 points, while Irving had 19 along with 10 assists to follow up his game-high 37-point performance in Game 2.

Indiana led 61-59 at halftime, but the Celtics seized control with a 9-2 run to close out the third quarter and they led the rest of the way.

“We have come a long way,” Irving told reporters after the game. “We started off pretty horribly this season, we just had time to figure it out.

“We’re all making sure we’re giving each other confidence and doing the little things to ensure we win. When you have that type of camaraderie, executing is a lot easier. 

“Now that the stakes are higher, with the pressure or whatever you want to call it, we’re settling into who we want to be, and that’s just an overall great team with everyone ready to play. (A team where) it could be anyone’s night. 

“The confidence is at a very high level when we know what everyone is capable of on the floor. You’ve just got to be ready to support that. It’s my responsibility to see where I can be aggressive.” 

Asked about the significance of winning on the road to go up 3-0, Irving said: “It’s a great step. 

“They (the Pacers) were playing with a desperate mentality; they didn’t want to go down 3-0. Game 4 is going to be even higher intensity, but this is a great stepping stone for us to keep going after the overall big picture – and that’s to keep getting closer and closer to 16 wins. That’s all it takes.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was full of praise for Irving after the game, as was opposing coach Nate McMillan.

“Kyrie, some of the shots he hit, he had the driving layup which was a good move but then the little floating shot he hit was just a joke. He’s ridiculous,” Stevens said.

“He’s a great player,” McMillan said, “he’s a playmaker, he’s a guy that does a great job of reading the defense.

“He’s unselfish – if you’re committing two to the ball, he’s giving it up. You’ve got to kind of just pick your poison.”