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Wednesday July 17th, 2019 6:39AM

Irving's 27 points, 18 assists leads Celtics past Raptors

By The Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) — 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 on Wednesday that 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 on Wednesday night. "I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. 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 3-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 — 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 said 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," he said. "Going forward, I want to test these young guys, but I can't do it publicly. 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 said.

"The responsibility of being the best player in the world and leading a team is something that's not meant for many people. And Bron was one of those guys that came to Cleveland and tried to really show us what it's like to win a championship. And it was hard for him. Sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world. Fewer are meant for it or chosen for it. And I felt like the best person to call was him."

Al Horford scored 24 and Jayson Tatum had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Boston, which returned home after losing three straight on the road.

Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points and Serge Ibaka had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who had won five in a row heading into the matchup 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. "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 3-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 center tipoff 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.

After adding Leonard in the offseason, the Raptors have zoomed to the top of the conference standings. But despite getting Irving and Hayward back from injuries that kept them out of last year's playoffs, when the team went to the conference finals, the Celtics have stumbled their way to the fifth-best record in the East.

The Celtics made just one of their first 11 shots in the fourth, giving up nine straight points to trail 92-89 midway through the quarter. But Aron Baynes, who had made 12 3-pointers all season, hit one from the top of key to stop the run and tie it.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Kyle Lowry, who finished with 10 points and seven assists, was poked in the left eye by teammate Pascal Siakam while the two were trying to defend Marcus Smart in the lane. Lowry went down under the basket for the rest of the possession but stayed in the game after a timeout.

Baynes, who missed a month with a broken bone in his left hand, returned and played 14 minutes, scoring nine points with five rebounds. Irving and Smart also returned after missing Monday's game in Brooklyn.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Return home for the second half of a back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns.

Celtics: Host Memphis on Friday night.

___

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