Prior to Game 1 of the 2022 Eastern Conference First Round Series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics, Steve Nash explained how he didn’t “worry” about the hostile TD Garden sellout crowd of 19,156 fans affecting Kyrie Irving’s performance.
Irving backed Nash’s claim with a masterclass, but on his way to a team-high 39-point performance, the Nets guard did not hide from his belief that you match Boston’s “energy” towards him with like responses.
It was one thing after the other. There were at least four documented instances of Irving clapping back at rowdy fans — the first middle finger came after Irving nailed a left-corner jumper, followed by the double-middle finger behind his head on the sidelines. Separately, the guard yelled profanity at a fan near the locker room at halftime. Then, in his postgame press conference, Irving used profanity in his responses when asked about his profanity on the court.
It was all well-documented...
Kyrie Irving gives middle finger to Celtics crowd pic.twitter.com/WxKGVwvw0r— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) April 17, 2022
It didn’t end there...
The behind the head middle fingers by Kyrie to the crowd was slick. pic.twitter.com/J0rqdh9U51— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) April 17, 2022
"Suck my dick, bitch" - Kyrie Irving pic.twitter.com/AZ6luUnbVu— Sexto Hombre (@6toHombreLATAM) April 17, 2022
After the game, Irving did not back down.
“Look, where I’m from, I’m used to all these antics and people being close nearby. It’s nothing new when I come into this building what it’s going to be like, but it’s the same energy they had for me, and I’m going to have the same energy for them,” Irving said.
After the Nets’ regular season series finale against the Celtics, Irving said he wanted to bury the hatchet with Boston fans, hoping the two sides can wipe the rocky history which began with him unceremoniously departing the team after two seasons in 2019. Since his departure, Celtic fans have serenaded Irving with vicious boos and trash-talk and on one occasion, tossed a water bottle at him heading into the locker room. For his part, Irving angered Boston fans by stomping on Lucky logo at TD Garden’s TD Garden and suggesting so much of the animosity had a racist tinge.
Obviously, that didn’t work. So, the 30-year-old clapped back with his middle fingers while delivering key buckets in the process.
“And it’s not every fan; I don’t want to attack every Boston fan. But when people start yelling p*ssy, and bi*ch and fu*k you and all this other stuff, there’s only but so much you can take as a competitor,” Irving stated. “And we’re the ones expected to be docile and be humble and take a humble approach? Nah, fu*k that.
“It’s the playoffs. This is what it is. I know what to expect in here, and it’s the same energy I’m giving back to them. All’s fair in competition. So if somebody’s going to call me out by my name, I’m going to look them straight in the eye and see if they’re really about it. Most of the time they’re not.”
When a reporter asked Irving about the hostile TD Garden crowd, he took exception to the word “hostile.” He didn’t want to further address questions about the interactions with the Celtic fans and instead focus on the play during Game 1. He also suggested that his reactions on Sunday weren’t unique.
“This is the first time you actually caught it because this is a big-time game,” Irving said. “I respond in different ways. I’m not trying to focus on that. If you want to ask questions about the fans, go ask them. Go on the street and ask them questions.”
In a follow-up, Irving was asked if the “energy” raining down from the sold-out TD Garden crowd brought the best out of his game. He responded with — “Embrace it. Embrace it. It’s the dark side. Embrace it.”
The league however may not embrace it.
On the other side, Nets fans who attended the game saw a double standard and more than one went on the offensive. A Brooklyn Brigade member went so far as identifying the fan who purportedly pushed Irving into that first incident, what ESPN called the “middle finger salute.”
This is the fan he flipped off. It’s important to note, since the beginning of the game this fan has called Kyrie a Fu**ing Pu**y six times and security has done nothing about it. @BrooklynNets @celtics pic.twitter.com/MZ8D9STlqU— Marshh (@iamMarshh) April 17, 2022
Like so much about this season, it is what it is. Like many great players in the league, the arena environment can bring out the best in their games.
Prior to the game, Irving’s head coach, Steve Nash had a pretty good feeling that said environment would help to the Nets guard add to the list of spectacular performances he’s faced inside walls of raining boos and banter, no matter where.
“This is a guy that’s made the game-winning shot in the Finals. He’s played in the Olympics. He’s played in the All-Star Game, All-Star Game MVP. I don’t know that there’s any atmospheres that are really gonna rattle him,” Nash said. “If he has an off night, he has an off night. I don’t think the crowd is a factor for Kyrie. This guy’s done about all you can do in a game.”
Post-game, Kevin Durant, who’s picked up his share of fines, said despite all the back-and-forth and fingers, Irving played his game.
“I don’t think he worries about it. I think he just plays his game and do what’s required out there,” said Kevin Durant on the TD Garden crowd getting under Irving’s skin. “And tonight, the shot-making just controlled the game for us, was incredible. That’s what we’re going to need going forward, so matter where he’s at, I think he’s the same player.”
Durant was asked whether he believed the Celtic fans crossed the line during Game 1, he responded that he was focused on the main goal. The superstar knows the hatred Irving received comes with the territory.
“I wasn’t really focused on the fans. We know they’re going to show out and support their team, but we know they’re going to let Kyrie hear it as much as possible,” Durant said. “It is what it is. It’s part of the sport.”
And it didn’t end when Jayson Tatum hit that buzzer-beating layup. Take a look at Fenway Park Monday afternoon.
Turns out Kyrie is not welcomed at Fenway pic.twitter.com/99LVfCgB3W— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) April 19, 2022
It is evident the banter from the TD Garden crowd will be even louder during Game 2 on Wednesday. The Nets guard, once again, explained how it’s time for both sides to move on heading into the first-round series. At this point, he doesn’t care about that anymore.
“Don’t care at this point. Let's get to the series and talk about our possessions and how we can get better,” Irving said. “I'm not going to focus on the past with Boston. I’m on the Brooklyn Nets. I’m happy to be with my teammates and competing out there.”
- Shaq, Charles Barkley bash Kyrie Irving for middle-finger drama: ‘Man up’ - Jenna Lemonceilli - New York Post
- Kyrie Irving appears to flip off Celtics fans after hearing boos all game - Ethan Sears - New York Post
- Kyrie Irving says he’s keeping ‘same energy’ as fans with middle fingers to Boston Celtics crowd - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- Kyrie Irving is embracing the dark side of his rivalry with Celtics fans: ‘It’s the same energy I’m giving back to them’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kyrie Irving vs. Celtics fans is a series unto itself: ‘It’s the dark side. Embrace it’ - Steve Buckley - The Athletic
- Nets’ Kyrie Irving reacts to hostile crowd in Boston: ‘I’m gonna have the same energy for them’ - Benyam Kidane - Sporting News