Kyrie Irving has made it two full years without playing a game at TD Garden in front of fans. That will change next week.
Irving's Nets will face the Boston Celtics in a first-round NBA playoff series that begins Saturday in Brooklyn. The 29-year-old has played two games in Boston (one preseason and one regular-season) since leaving the C's to sign with the Nets in the summer of 2019. But Game 3 next Friday will be his first at the Garden with fans in attendance.
Considering how Irving left Boston -- by telling C's fans he wanted to re-sign with the team in October 2018 only to change his mind after a turbulent season -- he'll probably get an icy reception from the (25% capacity) Garden crowd.
Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News joined Chris Forsberg on a new Celtics Talk Podcast to discuss how Irving might handle that reception.
"All these guys are emotional, and going back to Boston -- this time with fans -- is going to get maybe a little bit in his head," Winfield said. "But at the same time, what's a cold night for Kyrie when you can have Kevin Durant and James Harden pick you up? And that's kind of the conundrum the rest of the league has to face right now."
The Nets are heavy favorites in the series thanks to the talented trio of Irving, Durant and Harden. The question going into the season was whether the three All-Stars could co-exist, and if chemistry issues would doom Brooklyn like they did Boston in Irving's final season there.
But from Winfield's perspective, Irving and the Nets haven't been hampered those issues this season. In fact, Winfield says Kyrie has been exciting to cover despite a rocky start in which he declined to speak to the media early in the season.
"At the beginning of the season, he didn't want anything to do with us. ... 'I'm gonna give you guys this little memo, and we're gonna go from there,'" Winfield said. "But here's one thing he did say in that note: He made sure he wanted to say that he wanted his game to do the talking this season. And obviously he came around and started talking to us and everything was cool. But for him to have those 50-40-90 (shooting) numbers after saying, 'I want my game to do the talking for me,' that's all you have to say right there.
"And then on top of that, just the type of person that he is in terms of how much he loves human beings in general and what he's willing to sacrifice and say and use his platform for, to be fighting for all those things, and then also have one of the most efficient NBA seasons ever, that kind of tells you what it's been like.
"He's been electrifying to watch. There's a different atmosphere at Barclays Center when he's there versus when he's not playing, and that says a lot. You've got Kevin Durant and James Harden on the team, but Kyrie Irving is the draw."
For more from Forsberg and Winfield and Amina Smith's 1-on-1 interview with Tristan Thompson, check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.