Kyrie Irving said he was returning “the same energy” to Boston Celtics fans after giving them the middle finger during a thrilling playoff game on Sunday.
Irving has a history of bad blood with Celtics fans after leaving the team under acrimonious circumstances in 2019. In the past he is wary of “subtle racism” from the crowd at TD Garden. In last season’s playoffs he angered Celtics fans when he appeared to stomp on the team’s logo after a game and had water thrown over him by a member of the crowd.
On Sunday, Irving flipped off members of the crowd on two separate occasions as the Brooklyn Nets lost to the Celtics 115-114 in the series opener after Jayson Tatum’s layup at the buzzer.
“Look, where I’m from, I’m used to all these antics and people being close nearby,” said Irving, who scored 39 points in the Nets’ loss. “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 ‘pussy’ or ‘bitch’ and ‘fuck 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, fuck that, it’s the playoffs. This is what it is … 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.”
However, Irving said that the hostile atmosphere gave him motivation. “Embrace it,” Irving said. “Embrace it. It’s the dark side. Embrace it.”
Nets coach Steve Nash agreed. “This is a guy that’s made the game-winning shot in the Finals,” 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.”
In Sunday’s other playoff games, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks recovered after blowing a 16-point lead to beat the Chicago Bulls 93-86 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
Elsewhere, Duncan Robinson came off the bench to set a franchise playoff record with eight three-pointers, and the top-seeded Miami Heat forced Trae Young into matching the worst-shooting game of his career on the way to a 115-91 win over the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
In the Western Conference, the No 1 seed Phoenix Suns earned a 110-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Chris Paul had 30 points and 10 assists for the Suns.