Today must not be a great day for Kyrie Irving. The Brooklyn Nets point guard, who is currently one of the most hated people in Boston, famously left the team after the 2018-19 season after saying he wanted to stay.
His tenure with the Celtics was mostly a disappointment, especially since they did better when he was injured, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2018 playoffs. He was back the next season, but the Celtics were eliminated in five games in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks.
That Game 5 was Irving’s last time in a Celtics uniform, and that 116-91 defeat saw him put up a game-worst plus/minus of -25 with a 6 of 21 shooting performance from the field that was good for 15 points.
You may remember that he left the Cavaliers because he wanted to be the main man, but he ended up throwing his Celtics teammates under the bus when things went badly.
Boston fans clearly hold a lot of animosity toward Irving, which was fuelled further by them believing that Irving further disrespected them by ‘stamping’ on the Celtics logo in 2021. Personally, I think the fans are being a little too sensitive about that.
It’s no surprise then, that the Boston crowd was all-in on giving Irving shit during Game 1 of their first round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets. They were merciless, and clearly said things to Irving that drew his attention. It certainly didn’t affect his game, though, considering he had a solid 39 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals while shooting 12 of 20 from the field and 6 of 10 from three.
Irving wasn’t shy this time around, and was happy to flip off the fans while the game was going on.
He had some choice words for fans in the tunnel after the game, too.
Irving addressed the situation in his postgame interview, and this is one of those rare times that I agree with him.
“We’re expected to be the ones to be docile, and be humble, and take a humble approach,” said Irving “No fuck that it’s the playoffs.”
Irving’s correct. Until the series is over, he’s going to be public enemy number one in Boston. He’s within his rights to get into it with the crowd if they’re mercilessly heckling him, and it’s not like he looked for physical altercations. He let his game do the talking, gave hecklers the finger, and then said something back to a fan who told him he sucked in the tunnel.
I think that makes this series even more entertaining, because as we’ve all come to know, drama follows Irving anywhere he goes. This time, though, the drama is entirely focused on the basketball side of things, because competition and dealing with fans is part of the game. Let’s remember that with 45.9 seconds left, Irving made a three-pointer that put the Nets up 114-111. If they had managed to make one more basket after that, I’d be talking about how Uncle Drew enjoyed sticking it to Boston fans.
Now, with that out of the way, I want to show the Celtics some appreciation for the last play of the game. From a basketball fan’s perspective, I really respect how they won the game.
The final sequence that led to the game-winner was a thing of beauty. Jaylen Brown’s drive and dish to Marcus Smart, who then found a cutting Jayson Tatum for a spinning layup, showed a maturity and trust between teammates. There were plenty of opportunities to take a shot in the 9.1 seconds that they had on the clock, but they found the one that was right at the basket.
It was probably extra satisfying for the crowd that Irving was the final defender on that play, but it’s hard to blame him for that possession. He was not in a position to get a stop on Tatum, and the passing lane for Smart’s assist opened up because Kevin Durant lost Tatum after turning around and staring at Smart on the perimeter.
I really hope every game of this series is close. I could do with seven games of this, and four games of Irving vs. Boston fans.