BOSTON — Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving said he was responding to words he heard from the crowd when he flipped off several Boston Celtics fans on two separate occasions during Sunday’s 115-114 loss in Game 1.
After the game, Irving made it clear that he would have “the same energy for them” that they had for him.
“Look, where I’m from, I’m used to all these antics and people being close nearby,” Irving said after scoring a team-high 39 points in 42 minutes. “It’s nothing new when I come into this building what it’s going to be like — but it’s the same energy they have for me, I’m going to have the same energy for them.
“And it’s not every fan, I don’t want to attack every fan, every Boston fan. When people start yelling ‘p—y’ or ‘b—-‘ and ‘f— you’ and all this stuff, there’s only but so much you take as a competitor. We’re the ones expected to be docile and be humble, take a humble approach, f— that, it’s the playoffs. This is what it is.”
Irving, who played for Boston for two seasons from 2017 to 2019, said he has gotten used to getting booed by Celtics fans since leaving the organization after the 2018-19 season. Irving has dealt with even more ire from the fan base after several recent exchanges over the last couple years.
Prior to the 2018-19 season, Irving said he wanted to sign long-term with the Celtics, only to change course at the end of the season and leave for the Nets. Last season, Irving stepped on the Celtics logo at center court after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Celtics and then had a water bottle thrown at him by a person in the crowd as he made his way off the floor.
In the week leading up to that game, Irving also said there was “subtle racism” from the crowd at times, acknowledging that he heard some racist comments in TD Garden.
“I know what to expect in here,” Irving said after Sunday’s game. “And it’s the same energy I’m giving back to them. It is what it is. I’m not really focused on it, it’s fun, you know what I’m saying? Where I’m from I’ve dealt with so much, so coming in here you relish it as a competitor. … This isn’t my first time at TD Garden so what you guys saw, what you guys think is entertainment, or the fans think is entertainment, all is fair in competition.
“So if somebody’s going to call me out on my name, I’m gonna look at them straight in the eye and see if they really ’bout it. Most of the time they’re not.”
Irving, who was booed loudly throughout the day, took exception when a reporter asked about the “hostility” from the Boston crowd — noting that this isn’t the first time that he has flipped off a fan during a game.
“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 me questions about the fans, go ask them. Go on the street and ask them questions.”
When asked if the ‘energy’ from the Boston crowd brought out the best in his game, Irving was quick with an answer.
“Embrace it,” Irving said. “Embrace it. It’s the dark side. Embrace it.”
Irving’s teammates and coaches were confident that Irving would play his best in this type of environment.
“This is a guy that’s made the game-winning shot in the Finals,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “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. … 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 the game.”
“I don’t think he worries about it,” Nets star forward Kevin Durant added. “I think he just plays his game and do what’s required out there. And tonight, the shot-making, just controlling the game for us, was incredible. And that’s what we’re going to need going forward — so matter where he’s at, I think he’s the same player.”
Did Durant feel anything from the fans crossed the line on Sunday?
“I wasn’t really focused on the fans,” Durant said. “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. It is what it is. It’s a part of the sport.”
After an early March loss to the Celtics, Irving compared Boston fans to a “scorned girlfriend,” and has reiterated leading into this series that he felt it was time for fans to move on from his short Boston tenure. He was asked after Sunday’s game if he felt that was possible now.
“Don’t care at this point,” Irving said. “Let’s get to the series and talk about our possessions and how we can get better. I’m not gonna focus on the past with Boston. I’m on the Brooklyn Nets. I’m happy to be with my teammates and competing out there.”