BOSTON — Kyrie Irving didn’t seem to be enjoying his time in Boston. Not the city. Not the fans. Probably didn’t like Dunkin’ too. Two years in the Hub was enough to send Irving running for Amtrak in New York, to form a potential superteam with the division rival Celtics.
Boston doesn’t seem to like Irving. At least not Celtics fans, anyway. For many, Irving is the superstar who signed on to the city in 2018 only to bail it out nine months later, blasting a championship-level team along the way. The list of Boston sports villains is long. Irving is near the top.
Officially, it’s Boston vs. Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Unofficially, it’s Kyrie versus Boston. Irving scored 39 points in Game 1. He made six of his 10 three-point shots. He distributed six assists, he managed four assists and made his nine free throws. He also knocked fans off the pitch (twice) and exchanged colorful language with one another. On Tuesday, the NBA paid him $50,000 for it.
“Look, where I’m from, I’m used to all this antics and being close to people,” Irving said. “It’s nothing new when I walk into this building, what it’s going to be, but it’s the same energy they had for me, and I’m going to have the same energy for them.”
“And it’s not all the fans, I don’t want to attack all the fans, all the Boston fans. When people start shouting ‘p—y’ or ‘b—-‘ and ‘f — you’ and all that, there’s only a few things you take as a competitor. We’re expected to be docile and humble, to take a humble approach. F— that, it’s the playoffs. That’s what it is.
The Irving-Boston feud is just… weird. Irving did nothing in Boston. Sabotaged the 2018-19 season? Go on. Irving’s attitude, especially his disdain for the young players on the team, was unhelpful, but he was just one of the long list of issues that plagued this Snakebit team. Left as a free agent? Irving didn’t choose the Celtics, he was traded there. When his contract ended, he got a max deal to play for a team closer to home with one of his best friends, Kevin Durant, who happens to be one of the best players in the NBA. How many of you wouldn’t do the same?
“[The anger] is rooted in love,” Durant said Tuesday. “They used to love you. They once cheered you on and bought your wares and had life-changing experiences watching you play. So when that stuff is ripped from them, just something like a job or demanding a job or wanting to leave, it feels like a piece of them is gone too.
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“It’s an emotional attachment they have to professional sports. And it’s a gift and a curse to have a team in your town where you grew up. But it shows that people care, they have emotions, and they really accept and admire who we are as individuals. Sometimes it gets a little dark and deep. But that’s how the human brain works.
Irving, however, seems to enjoy the role of antagonist. He burned sage in the arena before his first game in Boston last season. He hinted he could hear racist comments ahead of the Nets’ streak against the Celtics last playoff. After Brooklyn defeated Boston in Game 4, Irving took to center court and stomped on the Celtics logo.
“Kiss him,” Irving said of the energy he received at TD Garden on Sunday. “It’s the dark side. Kiss him.”
The Celtics weren’t interested in participating in Irving’s drama on Tuesday. “Our goal is to keep him, to stop him,” said Ime Udoka. “We’re not worried about what’s going on with him and the fans.” Jaylen Brown, Irving’s former teammate, said he didn’t notice. “All my energy was on our team and what we needed to do to win games,” Brown said. Grant Williams deadpan, “Kyrie is one of the best players in the league in terms of shot creation and ability.”
The Nets also don’t seem concerned about interactions with Irving fans. And why would they? Irving was brilliant in Game 1. “I don’t think there are any atmospheres that will really shake him up,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. They’re focused on finding easier opportunities for Durant, who went 9 of 24 in Game 1. By getting over Seth Curry, who made one of his four threes. By keeping Andre Drummond, who played 17 foul-filled minutes on Sunday, on the floor.
He will be hostile inside the TD Garden on Wednesday. Fans will boo. They will heckle. And Irving, again, could respond. “You never know what might trigger you in the moment,” Durant said. The feud between Irving and Boston will continue. For the rest of this series. Probably longer.
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