Kyrie Irving had hoped Celtics fans would avoid dumb, belligerent behavior toward him during his return to the Garden.
Unfortunately, one fan just couldn’t help it on Sunday night and provided the latest example in the NBA of a “fan” going way too far.
As Irving was exiting the court after the Brooklyn Nets’ 141-126 victory over the Celtics to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series, a man threw a water bottle at Irving before he entered the tunnel on the way back to the Nets’ locker room. The fan was promptly apprehended and arrested by police.
It was an embarrassing blemish for Celtics fans, and NBA fans in general.
“It’s unfortunate that sports has come to a lot of this crossroads where we’re seeing a lot of old ways come up,” said Irving. “It’s been that way in history in terms of entertainment, performers and sports for a long period of time with underlying racism and treating people like they’re in a human zoo. Throwing stuff at people, saying things — there’s a certain point where it gets to be too much. I called it out, I just wanted to keep it strict to basketball. But people just feel very entitled around here. They pay for their ticket, great. I’m grateful that they’re coming in to watch a great performance. We’re not at the theater, we’re not throwing tomatoes and other random stuff at people that are performing. It’s too much.”
TD Garden spokesperson Tricia McCorkle released a statement saying: “A guest was arrested by Boston Police at the end of tonight’s Boston Celtics game for throwing an object. We will support and provide assistance to Boston Police as this incident is under review. We have zero tolerance for violations of our guest code of conduct, and the guest is subject to a lifetime ban from TD Garden.”
A near-full capacity crowd of 17,226 was in attendance. Most of them were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to shower the former Celtic with boos. It was Irving’s first game back in Boston in front of a significant crowd. Game 3 on Friday featured nearly 5,000 fans.
However, Irving was never rattled by the loud and rowdy Green-Teamers. He scored 39 points on 11-for-24 shooting (6-for-12 from deep) and grabbed 11 rebounds in 41 minutes.
“Fans got to grow up at some point. I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out,” said Nets’ forward Kevin Durant, who had 42 points. “But when you come to these games, you got to realize that these men are human. We’re not animals, we’re not in a circus. You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan, so have some respect for the game, have some respect for the human beings, and have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn’t be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players and spitting on players, or tossing popcorn. Grow the (expletive) up and enjoy the game. It’s bigger than you.”
During these playoffs, a fan in Philadelphia dropped popcorn on Washington Wizards’ guard Russell Westbrook, and a New York Knicks fan spit at Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.
“It used to happen back in the day, a lot of older players went through it,” Irving said. Any great person, great entertainer understands that when you’re achieving something bigger than you, you’re going to have a lot of adversity, animosity, and you just got to figure out a way to deal with it. Tonight, I thought we collectively dealt with it. Anything could’ve happened with that water bottle being thrown at me. But my brothers were surrounded around me, I had people in the crowd.”
It was an Irving two-handed put-back dunk in the middle of the third quarter that gave the Nets their first 20-point lead of the game.
Irving flourished while crushing the spirits of the rowdy Green Teamers, still scorned by his departure and wanted to see him struggle.
But Irving came out assertive and had 23 points in the first half. In the second half, he unleashed a 3-point barrage that reminded Celtics fans why they once wanted to build the franchise around the 6-foot-2, 29-year-old superstar.
Even in the fourth quarter, with the game way out of reach, the crowd tried to sting Irving with unfriendly chants aimed in his direction. But those died down quickly.
“Mental toughness, (Irving) is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Nets’ guard James Harden, who had 23 points and 18 assists. “For him, all of the emotions, or whatever is going through his mind, which I’m sure a million things are going through his mind, he goes out there and blocks everything out and is himself.”
For Irving, it was a nice recovery from his poor performance in Friday night’s Game 3 at the Garden. In his first appearance in Boston with fans in the building since leaving the Celtics, he shot just 6-for-17 and had 16 points in a 125-119 loss to the C’s.