The Nets are coming to Boston on Wednesday in what was expected to be an opportunity for fans at the TD Garden to let erstwhile point guard Kyrie Irving voice their displeasure with the disappointment of his two seasons with the Celtics and the way he bolted the team in free agency last summer.
But Irving, it was announced last week, won’t face that music. He is missing the Nets’ current three-game road trip with a shoulder injury.
That’s drawn some scorn around the league. Irving joined the Celtics by trade from Cleveland in the summer of 2017, and while he played in the Celtics first game against the Cavaliers, he missed both trips to Cleveland last season. One was for a hip injury that kept him out only for the Cavs game and the second was for load management.
Former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins voiced his disapproval with Irving’s absence on Twitter three days ago.
The Nets are 9-8, with Irving having missed the past six games. Brooklyn was 4-7 with Irving playing, but the Nets have won five of six with him in civilian clothing. The Nets had an offensive efficiency rating of 108.5 points per 100 possessions with Irving playing and a defensive efficiency of 111.0, for a net rating of minus-2.4. That was 20th in the NBA. With Irving out, the team has a net rating of 1.7.
The Celtics Aren’t Feeding Kyrie Irving Drama
The Celtics, though, are ignoring any drama involving Irving. His presence last year, during which he gave odd press conferences and his leadership was frequently questioned, was tinged with drama. Some of that has reportedly found its way to Brooklyn, most notably in an ESPN story that claimed, among other things, that Irving’s mood swings are, “the unspoken concern that makes Nets officials queasy.”
Boston forward Jaylen Brown shrugged off any commentary on the subject of Irving and the Nets. He even pretended not to know that Irving would not be making the trip.
“You say he’s not gonna play?” Brown asked. “Well, we’ll catch him next time.”
Brown said he had no opinions on how the Nets have been playing lately because he had been focusing on other teams.
“I haven’t been paying attention to how they’ve been playing,” he said. “I’ll watch film today to bring myself up to speed. He’s a great player and makes their team better despite what they probably say. But it would have been nice, it would have been great to be able to compete against a former teammate. That’s always fun.”
The Celtics have been off to a terrific start despite a series of difficult injuries, including losing Gordon Hayward to a broken hand and Kemba Walker to a neck injury that, it turns out, was not as significant as it first appeared. Boston is 12-4, just behind the East-leading Bucks (14-3).
Brown was asked whether the healthy Nets might actually be better off with Irving not making the trip at all, rather than coming to Boston as a spectator where he’d still be the focus of fans and media, given that Brown and the Celtics went through that twice in Cleveland last year.
“It depends,” Brown said. “They just got to be ready to play. Our job is to come out and make sure they’re not. Hostile environments, Boston is probably one of the tougher places to get a win in the league so we want to make sure we bring the energy and they feel us right from the get-go.”