Harsh taunts loudly filled TD Garden, home of the Boston Celtics, during Game 1 of the Celtics first round playoff series versus the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. Most of the expletives were directed at former Celtic and current Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who has been a regular target of Celtics fans.
Their dislike for Irving goes back to the way he departed the team in the summer of 2019 after professing his love for the city and the franchise. In October of 2018 during the pre-season, Irving told Celtic fans, “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year,” but then inked a four-year, $141 million deal with the Nets as a free-agent in June of 2019.
“I hope we could move past my Boston era and reflect on some of the highlights I left at TD Garden that they can replay. Move forward,” said Irving. But Celtics fans haven’t embraced that mindset. And they continued to let him know how they feel throughout Game 1. Irving responded by flashing his middle fingers at the crowd and rubbing his eyes to communicate he sees them as crybabies.
He did this in the process of torching arguably the NBA’s best defense led by guard Marcus Smart, who on Monday was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, for 39 points on 12-22 shooting, including going 6-10 on 3-pointers. Irving, who turned 30 in March, a seasoned ball player from the metropolitan area, expects to be heckled.
“The same energy they have for me, I’m gonna have the same energy for them,” he explained after a crushing 115-114 result on a layup by Celtics All-Star guard/forward Jayson Tatum on a defensive breakdown by the Nets as time expired.
“It’s not every fan,” Irving noted. “There’s only but so much you can take as a competitor.” This has been a common point of view among NBA players for the past several seasons. Many, including the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook—while a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder—and LeBron James have had intense verbal tangles with fans crossing the line of acceptable behavior.
“We’re the ones expected to be docile and be humble, take a humble approach,” continued Irving. “F— that! It’s the playoffs. This is what it is.” On Tuesday the league fined Irving $50,000 for his gestures as announced by Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations.
Officials and league security will be more aware of the fans’ verbal abuse of players as the series moves forward. Spectators could be subject to ejection from both TD Garden and the Barclays Center when the series moves to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday. Game 3 was last night (Wednesday) in Boston.