‘It’s the dark side. Embrace it’: Kyrie Irving using Boston atmosphere to fuel game

Kyrie Irving
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

“Embrace it. It’s the dark side. Embrace it,” Kyrie Irving said as he was peppered with questions about the back and forth he had with the fans at TD Garden on Sunday during Game 1.

The hostile reception was matched with an equally emphatic reaction from Irving himself during the course of the opening game between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics. Boston fans booed, jeered and cursed at him whenever they had the chance and Irving responded with some expletives of his own, both in the spoken and physical form as well as his play on the court.

[Complete First Round Coverage of Celtics-Nets Series]

“Look, where I’m from, I’m used to all these antics and people being close nearby,” Irving said. “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.”

And even amid all the jeers and name-calling from Celtics fans during the course of the game — one even screaming “you suck” at Irving as he was in the tunnel headed towards the locker room — the Nets superstar put up a 39 point performance that nearly lifted his side to a Game 1 win. That effort included 18 points alone in the fourth quarter and a number of clutch buckets down the stretch.

It’s fair to say that part of that drive came from Irving’s desire to answer the fans in Boston on Sunday who chanted “Kyrie sucks” throughout the afternoon and booed him loudly as he was introduced during player introductions ahead of tipoff. The reception is not going to change any time soon for Irving as the series marches on.

If that’s the case, then don’t expect Irving to react any differently than he did on Sunday. And why should he?

As Bruce Brown said about Kevin Durant earlier this season, “I don’t know why people are talking to him.” The same could be said for the trash talk that’s directed at Irving from Celtics fans.

Perhaps amping up one of the game’s best players to score 39 points isn’t the wisest decision.

“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,” Irving said. “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’s antics surely don’t sit well with the fans of Boston and some of the talking heads on TV, radio or in print, but it’s hard to argue with Irving’s point about players expected to be held to a higher standard in the face of 18,000-plus fans saying some truly nasty things at you.

The NBA isn’t going to see it that way with the spotlight on the Nets-Celtics series. Flipping the middle finger to a fan on national television or screaming back at a fan while you’re walking to the locker room is an easy way to get a bill in the mail from Adam  Silver for a fine.

Still, Irving is a man who beats to his own drum, for better or worse, and won’t change who he is or how he plays. That means while the boos and insults rain down Irving will embrace the dark side, and that should excite Nets fans and worry Celtics fans.