When Kyrie Irving caught a pass deep in the left corner, the Boston Celtics were not safe yet.

But he casually brought the ball over his head, moved it to his hip, and measured up defender Dennis Schroder. Though Schroder didn't give Irving much space, it didn't matter. The Celtics star took one dribble, stepped back behind the 3-point arc, and swished a tightly-contested jumper. As the shot fell through the hoop with 1:07 left, giving Boston a nine-point lead, Irving might as well have waved goodbye to the Atlanta Hawks.

"Dennis was in his shirt," said the Hawks announcer. "And he hit it."

No surprise there. Irving has owned crunch-time this season, living up to his reputation as one of the NBA's top closers. According to NBA.com, the three-time All-Star has scored more than everyone but Damian Lillard in the clutch, which is defined as the last five minutes of games with a five-point margin or less. Irving's per-36-minute averages in those situations look fake: 66.0 points, 9.4 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks, 57.4-percent shooting. The sample size is tiny at this stage of the season, of course. But over 30 minutes of clutch time, Irving has scored an insane 55 points. That ties him with Lillard for the league lead, and Lillard has played 23 more clutch minutes.

Though Irving roasted the Hawks with 12 fourth-quarter points on 3-for-3 shooting, the Celtics held just enough of a lead that most of those stats will not go on Irving's clutch resume. Oh, well. Irving still sounds excited about how head coach Brad Stevens has helped him achieve late-game success.

"There's dialogue (between player and coach)," Irving told reporters in Atlanta, as shared by the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. "But we prepare for it. So he understands the talent that I have at that point, especially in the fourth quarter. But I also understand his brilliant mind. So when we're preparing and going through walkthrough or simulating situations, it's kind of easy to just go off one another. I'm able to see the reads and what's going to happen, and then he makes the play calls and what he sees out there. And we're just continuously building that trust with one another. So it's pretty easy."

"There's not too much trading (of ideas with Stevens during the fourth quarter)," Irving added. "He's the man. So for me, I just try to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Just being in kind of the passenger seat and then also, it's like having a driving school teacher. He's driving you the whole time, then he puts you in the driving seat sometimes and you're able to see the road. When you're able to bounce ideas and have that type of connection, and it's still developing, it's pretty awesome."

But Irving should have faith in Stevens. For the second straight season, a Celtics point guard is blitzing through opponents late in games. A major chunk of the credit should go to Al Horford, a selfless maestro of the two-man game. But Irving, like Isaiah Thomas before him, has burned down defenses in key moments.