The Nets may face the most fan animosity they’ve faced all season when they travel to Boston and play in front of a hostile crowd under the TD Garden lights Friday. And it comes in the wake of two separate incidents over the last two days, one in Philly involving Russell Westbrook and the other in New York involving Trae Young.
“It’s fun to play in those situations,” said Blake Griffin on playing in Boston. “I’m not sure what to expect in Boston but I expect them to be loud and to be rowdy. You never want anything to cross the line but that’s not really my thought going into it. I appreciate when fans are loud, passionate, and they cheer for their teams. It makes it more fun to play.”
The NBA has welcomed fans back for the postseason to near-full capacity settings in most but not all venues. Full houses add more playoff juice and bring back the sense of normalcy to the association and the cities where they play. Although fans have made the postseason more electric, things went too far in Philadelphia and New York.
As Westbrook headed back to the locker room to treat an ankle injury, a Sixers season-ticket holder dumped popcorn on the Wizards’ superstar’s head. The fan was ejected and later banned from the Wells Fargo Center and has had his team’s season-ticket membership revoked.
Russell Westbrook appeared to have popcorn poured on his head by a fan on his way to the locker room with an apparent injury.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 27, 2021
The fan was ejected from the game. pic.twitter.com/WgtvKMFYHH
Also last night, a Knick fan sitting courtside intentionally spat on Trae Young as he waited to inbound the ball. The fan, who isn’t a season ticket holder, was banned from Madison Square Garden and details of the incident were passed on “appropriate authorities,” not further described.
“There’s obviously a line,” said Griffin. “I think what happened to Russ is obviously far beyond that line and the Garden with Trae, he was kind of giving it to them at the end of Game 1 and they were giving it back to him. That’s like a hostile environment and I mean hostile in a basketball way, not like an actual hostile environment.”
“You hate to see the things that happened over the course of the last 24 hours. People throwing things. Spitting on people. You never want that,” added Landry Shamet on the two fan-related incidents. “Hopefully, it’ll be good moving forward.”
Kevin Durant took to Twitter to give his opinion on the two fan-related incidents.
It’s all fun and games until ya ass banned for life.— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) May 27, 2021
Beyond all that, Brooklyn enters Boston in Kyrie Irving’s return to TD Garden for the first time in front of a nearly filled arena. (TD Garden will be limited to 25 percent capacity Friday for Game 3, but is likely to be at near-full capacity Sunday for Game 4.)
Following the Game 2 win over the Celtics, Irving commented on “subtle racism” in Boston and hopes for a peaceful environment without incident. While the Nets can anticipate a hostile crowd raining boos to Irving and the Nets, Steve Nash welcomes the energy as long as it isn’t over the line.
“There’s a line for sure where you don’t want the fans to cross that line. Players definitely have a firmer line and how they accept that,” said the head coach on playing in Boston for Games 3 and 4. “I would say that 90 percent of it is hopefully positive. We go into a hostile environment and welcome it, enjoy it and we want the vitriol as long as it’s not over the line,” said Nash We want to face some adversity so that noise and that energy coming from the opposing fans is something that can spur your team on and a challenge to help you lock in, be more focused, and there’s no better than feeling than playing well on the road, especially in the playoffs.”
Nash said he hasn’t spoken to Irving about returning to Boston and about the type of reception his superstar guard will receive Friday, then again Sunday. Nash believes Irving can handle the foreseeable rowdiness. (After all, when Kyrie hit that dramatic dagger in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, he was playing in front of 19,000 Warrior fans.)
“I haven’t talked to Kai about it. Kai’s an all-world basketball player. I think he’s quite comfortable in hostile environments. I’m sure he’ll relish the opportunity,” said Nash on Irving playing in Boston. “There is a line but crossed or not, Kai can handle that. No question. We hope it’s all in within the sportsmanship guidelines sort of speak, but Kai can handle it and has done so throughout his career.”
“It never really crossed my mind to talk to Kai about it because I know how strong of an individual and know he’s probably faced it before and to be able to handle it doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t mean it’s warranted, but I don’t think he needs to talk about it. What is there to say? I think he can handle it, but it’s not warranted or acceptable and that’s kind of it. We all know that.”
Shamet provided the same response when asked if the team or players have talked to Irving ahead of his return to TD Garden. The 24-year-old knows that whenever a superstar makes a return to their former arena in front of their former supporters, the energy will certainly be present.
“Kai hasn’t spoken to me about it about the return. I don’t know if there’s much speaking that needs to be happening. Anytime anyone goes back to their last team's arena for the first time, it’s going to be a hostile crowd and a hostile environment. You can go down the list,” Shamet said. “There’s more energy there when a superstar comes back for the first time. You expect some good and some bad. That’s all part of it.”
Griffin, who knows what it’s like to return to a former crowd filled with fans in a different setting, said it’s something understood. There’s no need for it be discussed. He expects Boston to be loud, but hopes no lines are crossed and will not be going into TD Garden with that expectation.
“In terms, if we spoke about it, it’s kind of an understood thing when you go into certain places. You know it’s going to be a pretty rowdy crowd. Each arena is different. Each state and city is a little different. I’ve heard things throughout my time in the league. I never played a playoff game in Boston, so it’s a little different than the regular season. I have a lot of respect for the fans in Boston. They know the game. They’re loud and support their team and you hope it stays like that and they don’t cross any lines,” Griffin said. “I’m not going into it with that expectation.”
The Nets were a little startled by the fan ovation during Game 1 with some players and Nash suggesting the shock of seeing 14,000 emotional fans played a part in the slow start. Griffin said the players can’t necessarily prepare for the rowdy presence in Boston. Instead, the veteran noted how if Brooklyn can capitalize on the small details early and restrict momentum early, it will help soothe the negative energy.
“Having not played in front of a full capacity crowd on the road in a while, I don’t know what you can do to really prepare. It’s one of those things you get used to over time. On the court, the things we can do are making sure we do the little things. Cut down on turnovers. Offensive rebounds and all those energy plays and hustle plays, you want to get to the ball first and all that to cut down on giving them momentum or giving them a reason to get into the game,” Griffin said.
Now, they’ll have to get used to the opposite!