Bob Cousy labels Kyrie Irving best attacking point guard in basketball: ‘I’m on his bandwagon’

Celtics legend says Irving's passing game separates him from Isaiah Thomas, puts him on same level as Russell Westbrook.

Kyrie Irving has been spectacular in his first season in Boston. (Boston Celtics)

BOSTON — Bob Cousy knows a great point guard when he sees one. And what he sees in Kyrie Irving makes the Celtics point guard legend think the Celtics have the best in the game, at least in taking the ball to the basket and handling the rock in general.

What he saw Monday night served to only reinforce that feeling.

“I’m on his bandwagon,” Cousy told Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. “He’s very impressive.”

“This guy, in my judgment, is even more effective taking it to the basket. There isn’t anyone in the league that I can see who takes it as effectively. Maybe (Russell) Westbrook, but not with the same panache and creativity. Westbrook kind of overwhelms, overpowers you with his physical game. This kid just gets it in there and gets by anybody who tries to guard him. He also sees the floor. I always thought (Isaiah) Thomas’s deficiency, one of them, was his passing game. This kid really can make the play, he sees the play, he knows what to do, and defensively he’s a force.”

Irving scored 21 of his team-high 25 points in the first half while the Celtics (43-19) connected on 8-of-11 from beyond the arc in the opening quarter in a 109-98 win over Memphis Monday night at TD Garden.

“Very appreciative, knowing what Mr. Cousy gave to the game, the Celtics tradition, I mean it’s pretty awesome,” Irving said after Monday’s spectacular display. “Practice, lots of practice. Just being very strategic in what I’m working on and being efficient when I go to the gym. Finding out some of the things I can be really good or great at and just making sure I perfect those skills.”

It was Boston’s third straight win since the All-Star break and keeps them a half-game behind Toronto (42-17) for top seed in the East. Toronto beat Detroit Monday.

“Our focus level and getting everyone back,” Irving said. “Just knowing what we’re trying to get ready for.”

The rebuilding Grizzlies lost their 10th straight and fell to 18-41 on the season. For a full box score, click here.

The start of the game was once again Irving, who drilled five of his first six from beyond the arc in the first half as part of his 21-point first half.

By the time he hit two shots from the free throw line with 2:49 left in the second quarter, the crowd already began its “M-V-P” chants for Irving. And to think Memphis, with Marc Gasol returning to the lineup, actually scored the game’s first five points.

The Grizzlies were hanging tough, trailing just 27-24 late in the first quarter when Brad Stevens went with all reserves, featuring Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye. That group of five manage to outscore Memphis 23-6 and put the game hopelessly out of reach.

What has changed since the break?

“Our whole mindset. Before break we played just bad defensively,” Theis said. “Since we came back we tried to bring back our defense from earlier and the middle of the season. The last quarter today we didn’t play defense, but like the second quarter showed what we’re capable when everyone is engaged.

“I would say because we are playing consistently again. We have got to keep doing this, we only have twenty games left. We gave up a lot of games, especially at home. It was five or six and that just can’t happen.”

The first half ended appropriately enough, with Marcus Morris draining a three from the left side at the buzzer, putting the Celtics up 67-41 heading to the locker room. The Celtics shot a blistering 11-of-22 from beyond the arc. But just as impressive was the defensive effort, as the Grizzlies struggled badly to get any quality shots up.

But the big story of the half was the red-hot Irving, electrifying the crowd with highlight-reel moves like the one he put on the trio of Myke Henry, JaMychal Green and Deyonta Davis.