Celtics fans spent the night jeering, chanting expletives, and booing Kyrie every moment they could, including every single time he touched the basketball in Boston’s impressive 125-119 win over the Nets, Friday.
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From the outset, Irving, who was showered with boos from the moment he trotted out of the tunnel during pregame warm-ups, encouraged his ex-fanbase to keep it coming. So, it did.
All night, long. And Irving struggled.
Kyrie Irving On Hostile Environment at TD Garden: ‘I’m Cool with It’
He never truly found his offensive rhythm. Irving scored only two points on 1-of-5 attempts throughout the first half and finished with 16. After the game, he was asked about the abrasive, yet far from the full-capacity crowd expected for Game 4, at TD Garden, which Irving faced for the first time since 2019.
“It’s basketball, I’ve been in a few environments in my life,” Irving said after Friday’s loss. “So, like I said, as long as it’s strictly the nature of basketball out there, there’s nothing extra; I’m cool with it. We’re going to get some preparation with the team tomorrow, and then get prepared for Sunday. But, we want to keep it straight basketball.”
Irving, who caused quite the stir with his fiery commentary after Game 2‘s 130-108 win against the Celtics, when he asked fans in Boston to refrain from racism and to “keep it strictly basketball.” While not making any references to the past nor to prior experiences, Kyrie’s sly innuendo did not sit well the morning after as the talk around the hub began to unravel.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke on it, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge chimed in during his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and so did former Celtics players, including 2008 champion Kendrick Perkins, along with a two-time champion legend and radio color analyst Cedric Maxwell.
Kyrie Irving On Game 4: ‘We’re Expecting a Bigger Crowd’
Still, Irving knows he hasn’t seen the end of it, including the wrath that awaits as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is officially allowing 1,726 fans into TD Garden for Game 4, Sunday night.
“We’re expecting a bigger crowd on Sunday,” Irving said. “So, I’m happy it was a great start to seeing what this environment was going to be like and just looking forward to the challenge.”
For Kyrie, the Nets are going to have to rattle the Celtics’ offense early and often if they hope to grab a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-7 series.
“They were just comfortable,” Irving said. “Down the stretch, they feel like they can pick us apart with their 1-4, or 1-3 pick-and-roll, or kind of what we call, pick-on-basketball. Just bringing screens up and then JT (Tatum) getting to the free-throw line, or getting aggressive plays, or Kemba getting into the teeth of the defense, or they run an ATO for Evan Fournier, I get a corner-3; just big momentum plays. Tristan (Thompson) hitting the offensive glass and keeping plays alive.
“Just the little details of the game where we felt that we could have been there in terms of putting a body on guys. We just have to be ready for that for Game 4.”